Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are more likely to experience speech delays if they use handheld devices like smartphones, tablets and electronic games, according to a study released Thursday.
"I believe it's the first study to examine mobile media device and communication delay in children," Catherine Birken, the study's senior investigator and a pediatrician and scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told CNN. "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."
The study involved nearly 900 children. Parents reported the amount of time their children spent using the screens at age 18 months. Researchers then used an infant toddler checklist to assess the children’s language development, CNN reported. The checklist included whether a child uses sounds or words to get attention, and how many words the child uses.
Twenty percent of the children spent an average of 28 minutes a day using screens, according to the study. Every 30-minute increase in daily screen time was linked to a 49 percent increased risk of what the researchers call expressive speech delay, which is using sounds and words, CNN reported. The study did not find any link between use of a handheld device and other areas of communication, such as gestures, body language and social interaction.
Birken said more research is needed to determine what content the children are viewing, and also whether they are using the devices with a parent or caregiver present, CNN reported.
"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. "You need trials. You need good evidence, at least longitudinal studies, but this, at least, this finding is identifying an association and it does support the current recommendation" from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That group recommends no screens at all, other than video-chatting with family, for children younger than 18 months, CNN reported.
For kids between the ages of 18 to 24 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what exactly they are seeing.
Nearly 40 percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, an increase of 10 percent in 2011, according to a 2013 study by Common Sense Media.