Letting babies watch cartoons or play games on tablets and phones may make them slower to talk and develop social skills, study suggests

  • Higher screen time before age 1 linked to highest risk of developmental delays
  • READ MORE: Covid restrictions messed up children’s balance as they spent so much time on screens

Making nursery rhymes or cartoons has been the savior of many parents looking for some peace of mind from their babies.

But letting babies watch programs on TV, tablets and phones may slow them down to talk and develop, a study suggests.

Those who had the most screen time in their first year of life suffered the greatest developmental delays when they were toddlers, researchers found.

The data comes after children’s screen time skyrocketed during the Covid pandemic, as lockdowns and school closures forced them to stay indoors.

Allowing babies to watch programs on TV, tablets and phones can make them talk and develop more slowly (stock image)

Researchers from Tohoku University, Japan, studied 7,000 babies, about half girls and half boys, between 2013 and 2017.

Parents were given a questionnaire asking how many hours they allow their children to watch TV, DVDs, video games and internet games, including mobile phones and tablets.

Response options were none, less than one, one to less than two, two to less than four, or four or more hours per day.

They found that about half (48.5 percent) watched screens for less than an hour, 29.5 percent had one to two hours, 17.9 percent clocked in between two and four hours, and 4.1 percent stared for more than four hours per day to a screen.

Children were assessed on communication, such as babbling, vocalizing, and comprehension, and gross motor skills, such as arm, body, and leg movements.

Scientists also looked at fine motor skills, such as hand and finger movements, and problem solving, such as learning and playing with toys.

Children were also assessed on their personal and social skills, with an emphasis on solitary social play and playing with toys and other children.

According to findings published in JAMA Pediatrics, scientists linked high screen time for one year to challenges in fine motor, social and personal skills by the time they were two.

The more time children spent on screens, the less developed these skills were, but these delays disappeared when they were reassessed at age four.

Researchers suggest that it could be that young people already suffered from slower fine motor skills, social and personal development and had a lot of screen time as a result.

They also noted that some children were able to see an improvement in their language skills when their screens were used for educational purposes.

Associate professor and study author Dr. Taku Obara said, β€œThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends selecting high-quality (e.g., educational) programs when introducing digital media to children ages 18 to 24 months.

“Because it’s difficult to limit screen time in general in today’s world of electronic devices, identifying and limiting the screen time aspects associated with developmental delays while taking advantage of the educational aspects can be helpful.”