Perspective from Lynn F. Davidson, MD, FAAP
Perspective from Suzy Tomopoulos, MD
May 10, 2017
1 min read

Handheld screen time increased risk of expressive speech delays in infants

Perspective from Lynn F. Davidson, MD, FAAP
Perspective from Suzy Tomopoulos, MD
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Infants who are exposed to handheld screen time including smartphones, tablets and electronic games may be at higher risks for expressive speech delays, according to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.

These findings support recent AAP recommendations that barring video chats parents should avoid use of screen media for children aged younger than 18 months.

“Handheld devices are everywhere these days,” Catherine Birken, MD, MSC, FRCPC, principal investigator and staff pediatrician and scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, said in a press release. “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.”

To examine the connection between communication issues and handheld screen time in children between the ages of 6 and 24 months (n = 1,077), the researchers conducted a parent survey during scheduled child health supervision visits between September 2011 and December 2015. All children included were part of the TARGet Kids! practice-based research network.

While communication concerns were measured with a validated questionnaire capable of detecting speech delays and other communication issues – also known as the Infant Toddler Checklist (ITC) – parents were asked to describe their child’s typical daily handheld screen time. Children considered to have expressive speech delays had ITC scores lower than the 10th percentile in the speech domain, and other concerns were noted if the child scored below the 10th percentile in symbolic, social or the total score of the ITC.

According to study results, although 69% of infants had no handheld screen time, daily handheld screen time was reported for 20% of infants, with average exposure time lasting 27.8 minutes. Researchers observed a significant connection between handheld screen time and expressive speech delay in children who had any screen time, a demographic with more pronounced speech concerns. Handheld screen time was not related to delays in any other area of communication in the entire group.

“This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay,” Birken said in the release. by Katherine Bortz.


Ma J, et al. “Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?” Presented at: The Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting; May 6-9, 2017; San Francisco, CA.

Disclosure: The researchers report no financial disclosures.