Speech delay one of the ill effects of smartphones

Children who spent more time using handheld devices tend to experience delays in expressive speech. However, children who spent less time on smart devices did not.

You may be short on time and need something to keep your kids busy while you do the work. For times like these, smartphones may be useful. But did you know of the ill effects of smartphones on your child's development?

There’s growing evidence that suggests extended screen time has a negative impact on a growing child’s development.

A new study looked into nearly 900 children between the ages of six months and two years. In the study, they discovered something disturbing.

Children who spent more time using handheld devices tend to experience delays in expressive speech. And children who spent less time on smart devices did not.

Every time a child uses up 30 minutes of their time in front of a small screen there’s a 49% increased risk of expressive speech delay.

Ill effects of smartphones unsurprising

Paediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada led the research that explores the ill effects of smartphones on kids. They presented the study at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, and the results were unsurprising.

In their study, the researchers found that prolonged screen time only had negative effects on speech. There was no effect on other communication skills like body language or social interactions. But they did note that screen time's effect on speech is worth investigating.

Even showing kids educational content via screens might not be helping a child’s development.

“What these results show is that if parents are trying to address their child’s language development with educational apps, it’s probably not working on a population scale,” says Dr. Jenny Radesky.

Radesky is an assistant professor of developmental behavioral pediatrics at the University of Michigan. She's also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) executive committee of the council on communications and media.

ill effects of smartphones Image source: File photo

Direct engagement vs. ill effects of smartphones

Though Radesky was not involved in the study, she said there were a number of reasons why AAP recommends against handheld devices or computers for children under 18 months.

Instead of giving handheld devices to children, the AAP encourages parents to engage directly with their babies. 

The most recent studies revealed that children at this developmental stage are unable to understand the differences between the two-dimensional world of the screen and the three-dimensionality of the real world.

“Even if they can mimic what they see on the screen, they can’t always transfer that to the real world and the rest of their lives,” she says. “Symbolic thinking and memory flexibility is something that apps haven’t been able to overcome, no matter how interactive they are.”

ill effects of smartphones Image source: File photo

Smart devices as pacifiers?

Radesky interpreted this phenomenon of treating handheld devices as pacifiers or parent surrogates as a sign of a deeper problem in parents. The amount of screen use experienced by young infants may reflect social, cultural, and economic factors that influence parents.

These factors may have something to do with the stress parents experience. This affects the consistency (or lack thereof) of caregiving that a child receives.

Radesky also notes that more studies are needed to explore the effects of smartphone exposure on a child’s development. She added that research should also look further into its effects on expressive language.

“What’s important is creating unplugged spaces and time so families can create boundaries for screen time,” says Radesky.

Vital connections

Radesky and other experts in paediatrics seem to agree on one thing. Parents should provide space for live, face-to-face interactions with their children.

Connecting with your child face to face may not be easy in a world inundated with media exposure. In spite of this, parents should continue to have face-to-face interactions with their kids as it is vital to child development.

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