It’s hard to keep smartphones and tablets out of little hands. With colourful animated games and catchy videos designed to captivate babies from an early age, these devices have become natural tools of distraction for parents who simply need a moment to take a shower or stop the crying. But, as many of us feared, there are consequences to that early screen time. The newest study shows that the more babies use smartphones and tablets, the more likely they are to have speech delays.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at SickKids in Toronto, looked at about 900 babies from six months to two years old. By the time they were 18 months old, 20 percent of babies used these devices for about 28 minutes a day. Researchers found that, for each 30-minute increase in time spent with handheld screens, the infants were 49 percent more likely to have expressive speech delays.
The study’s authors say there is more research needed on things like what sort of content babies are accessing on smartphones and tablets to figure out why exactly screen time is linked to speech delays, and to understand the long-term consequences on kids’ communication skills. But, for now, there are plenty of reasons to try to keep the screens to a minimum in your baby’s life.
Not only could giving kids devices set them up for spending excessive time in front of screens later in life (and set you up for binge-watching PAW Patrol with them), it could negatively impact their sleep.
The Canadian Paediatric Society discourages the use of screens for kids under the age of two. And experts say that interacting with your infant as much as possible (even when they can’t answer back) is key to developing language skills, so try to replace those devices with talking and playing in real life.
It’s nearly impossible to keep screens out of kids’ hands entirely when our lives have become so thoroughly enmeshed with the digital world, but giving babies as much face time (the real-world kind) as possible can give them a better start.