Time on a tablet may slow speech development in young children, new research shows. Pediatricians at the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada who examined the effect of screen time on 900 children between 6 months and 2 years old found a 49% increased risk of delayed speech for every additional 30 minutes spent using a touch screen, Time reports. While previous studies have reported negative effects associated with screen time, including sleeping problems, the research presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies was the first to establish a link between handheld devices and expressive language delay. Expressive language refers to the ability to convey feelings and information, per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Screen time did not affect other types of communication, such as social interaction or body language. Led by Dr. Catherine Birken, the team found that by 18 months, one-fifth of the children studied used tablets, smartphones, or other handheld devices an average of 28 minutes a day. With devices "everywhere these days," Birken says in a news release that all screen time for children under 18 months should be discouraged, a suggestion echoed by the AAP. That even goes for apps marketed as educational. One expert tells Time that the littlest ones can't understand the connection between what they see on the screen and what they see in the real world. “Symbolic thinking and memory flexibility is something that apps haven’t been able to overcome, no matter how interactive they are," says Dr. Jenny Radesky. (This app can help grown-ups get smarter.)