Roxana Marachi, Ph.D /  from EduResearcher

As tech devices extend into social spaces, it’s not uncommon to see toddlers and even babies along with their parents staring into separate handheld screens. A new study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Conference in San Francisco this week adds evidence to a growing body of scientific literature on the impacts of early screen time on mental development.

The principal investigator of the research team is a pediatrician and scientist, Dr. Catherine Birken, MD, MSc. The study involved asking parents of 1,077 children (ages 6 months to 2 years) to track and report their children’s screen time.  The researchers’ analyses revealed that by their 18 month check ups, 20 percent of the children had average handheld device use of 28 minutes a day. A validated questionnaire (The Infant Toddler Checklist) was used for detecting expressive speech delay and other communication concerns, and according to a review of the study,

…”researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child’s parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech. For each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found a 49 percent increased risk of expressive speech delay.”

Dr. Birken said the results support a recent policy recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to “prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers.”  She suggests that more research is also needed to understand the type and content of screen activities infants are engaging in to further explore mechanisms behind the apparent link between handheld screen time and speech delays.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2017, May 4). Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children: New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests the more time children under 2 years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 4, 2017 from

Ma, J., van den Heuvel, M., Maguire, J., Parkin, P., Birken, C. (2017). Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants? Presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, San Francisco, CA. Conference abstract available at 

Note: Depending on the source, different numbers have been reported for the study sample. According to the Science Daily review (which apparently includes information from an interview with the lead researcher), 894 children were included, while according to the online published abstract, the sample size was 1077. Any necessary changes will be updated upon clarification.
Photo above from iStock/WP

For readers interested in additional research related to screen time and children’s development, please see:

Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis // JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association

Dose–Response Association of Screen Time-Based Sedentary Behavior in Children and Adolescents and Depression: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies // British Journal of Sports Medicine

Mobile Phone Dependency and Its Impacts on Adolescents’ Social and Academic Behaviors

American Academy of Pediatrics Issues New Recommendations on Screen Time and Exposure to Cell Phones

60 Minutes Explores Tech Designed to Be Addictive

Screen Time, Wireless, and EMF Research