You see it all the time. Little children with their parents' phone, iPad, or other handheld device. The temptation for parents is understandable; keeping a young child occupied can provide the distraction to enable a parent to complete an errand, do a task, or just catch their breath. It's an understandable impulse, and one we have looked at previously.
But it's not a benign activity, and new research shows just how damaging handheld screen time can be to the expressive language skills of very young children.
The study looked at roughly 1000 children in the Toronto area, ranging from six months to two years of age. By the time they were 18 months old, their parents reported that 20 percent of the children had average daily handheld screen time use of close to 30 minutes. Based on a screening tool for expressive language delays, the researchers found a significant correlation between increased screen time and delays in expressive language. For every half hour increase in screen time with a handheld device, there was a 49 percent increased risk of expressive language delays. There did not seem to be delays in other forms of communication, such as body language or gestures.
This study is preliminary and the researchers emphasize that more investigation is needed. But the results are of sufficient concern that they should give pause to parents who are inclined to hand over their phones or tablets on a regular basis to entertain a fussy baby.