A new study might make you second guess using an iPad or a smartphone as a means to engage your child.

The 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies meeting on Thursday revealed a link between time spent on handheld screens and speech delays.

The more time children between the ages of six months and two years spent playing on devices such as tablets, smartphones and electronic games, the more likely their speech development would be put at risk.

“I believe it’s the first study to examine mobile media device and communication delay in children,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, the study’s senior investigator and a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario. “It’s the first time that we’ve sort of shone a light on this potential issue, but I think the results need to be tempered (because) it’s really a first look.”

Almost 900 children took part in the study. Each day, parents reported the amount of minutes their children spent using the screens. Researchers used a screening tool, known as the infant toddler checklist, to evaluate the children’s language development. Through the assessment, the researchers studied a range of things, such as how many words the child uses and whether the child uses sounds or words to get attention or help.

According to the researchers’ findings, 20 percent of the children spent on average 28 minutes a day utilizing screens. There was also a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay for every 30-minute increase in daily use of the handheld devices.

Birken claims that further research needs to be done, such as analyzing the content on the screens during use and whether or not a parent or caregiver is actively using the screens with the child.

“I think in order to actually develop the evidence to inform parents and clinicians about what to recommend, we need more definitive research,” Birken said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents should provide children between the ages of 18 to 24 months with high quality programming and for parents to watch with their children to better understand what they’re seeing.

A study in 2013 by Common Sense Media claimed that nearly 40 percent of children under two have used a mobile device. This percentage, however, has likely increased today due to the prevalence and growing popularity of smartphones. It is estimated by Pew Research Center that 77 percent of Americans own smartphones in 2017.

Michelle MacRoy-Higgins is the co-author of “Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development,” a book that focuses on speech development in babies and young children.

“We do know that young kids learn language best through interaction and engagement with other people, and we also know that children who hear less language in their homes have lower vocabularies,” MacRoy-Higgins said.

She stresses the importance of language development for the first two years of a child’s life.

“Delays can be associated with difficulties learning to read and to write in elementary school so these early years, these first two years, the language influence that kids get is really very, very important and we want our kids to stay on track with their language development, because if they’re not, they’re really at risk for having some difficulties,” she said.

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