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Giving toddlers tablets and smartphones can 'harm their speech development'

Every half hour a toddler spends with a smartphone increases their risk of delayed speech by 49%, say researchers.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Uvarov Stanislav

NEW RESEARCH HAS suggested that as children under the age of two spend more time using handheld smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices, their risk of having problems with their speech increases.

The researchers at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children found that, for every half hour a child spends with a smartphone, the risk of delayed speech increased by 49%.

The study looked at the progress of 894 children between the ages of six months and two years.

By the time of their 18-month check-ups, one in five children handled a smartphone or similar device for an average of 28 minutes a day, according to their parents.

Using a screening tool to test for language delay, researchers observed that the more a child spent using a smartphone or similar device, the more likely that child was to have problems with delayed speech.

Children would usually develop the basis of speech patterns and gain a small range of vocabulary by the age of two, but delayed speech can sometimes persist past that age.

Dr Catherine Birken, the lead investigator on the study, said: “Handheld devices are everywhere these days.

While new pediatric guidelines suggest limiting screen time for babies and toddlers, we believe that the use of smartphones and tablets with young children has become quite common.

“This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay.”

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Birken said that further studies would be needed to look at what type of content children were looking at on smartphones to understand the link between screen time and delayed speech.

Other recent studies have also highlighted the potential for smartphones to have a detrimental effect on children.

Researchers at University College London published work suggesting that toddlers that spend time looking at screens could be deprived of sleep as a result.

Smartphone use may have a negative effect on older children, too, with research published this week by Duke University in the US suggesting that children who spend a lot of time using such devices are more at risk of attention and disruptive behaviour issues.

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Sean Murray

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