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Letting a baby play on an iPad might lead to speech delays, study says, Brooklyn Letters(CNN) Anyone raising a child today has likely fretted about screen time and wondered about the impact of devices on our kids. Does the technology affect their brains Does it limit their social development Could it harm them emotionally Could it delay when they start talking

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“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 and scientist at ?????? 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.”

In the study, which involved nearly 900 children, parents reported the amount of time their children spent using screens in minutes per day at age 18 months. Researchers then used an infant toddler checklist, a validated screening tool, to assess the children’s language development also at 18 months. They looked at a range of things, including whether the child uses sounds or words to get attention or help and puts words together, and how many words the child uses.

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‘We need more definitive research’

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“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.

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“This is an important study in highlighting some of the potential risks associated with media use, and specifically handheld mobile devices,” said Michael Robb, research director for ????. “What’s driving the effect is very important. The negative effects may be due to screen time replacing parent-child interaction (playing, reading, talking, singing, etc.) which are critical for healthy development,” said Robb via email.

Screens are ‘everywhere’

Michelle MacRoy-Higgins and Carlyn Kolker are co-authors of the just released “Time to Talk: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Speech and Language Development,” which explores how speech develops in babies and young children.

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“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.”

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The first two years are incredibly important for children and their early foundation of language is important for academic success, she said. “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.”

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“They are everywhere and we can’t ignore that fact,” said Kolker, a former Bloomberg News and Reuters reporter, who started working on “????” with MacRoy-Higgins almost five years ago. “We’re not all going to throw our phones away.”

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“I think what this study shows is how much we really need to delve into what affects they’re having on children, and how a parent, while we may have them and while they may be there, we need to know how exactly we can regulate them,” Kolker said.

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“They’re free and they’re easy to do,” said MacRoy-Higgins, a mother of two who said she wanted to write a book because she is constantly approached by fellow parents with questions about their children’s language development. “Sometimes parents want to know ‘What type of toy should I buy ‘ … ‘What types of things can I buy to help my child learn ‘ and you don’t have to spend a lot of money, just time and engagement is really the easiest thing that you can do.”

But most parents today, even those who are aware of the research, may find it useful to let their baby be preoccupied by a handheld device from time to time and that’s OK, said Kolker, who is also a mom of two.

“Every parent is going to need a device at some moment, a screen or a device, a tablet with their child at some point,” Kolker said. “It’s just going to happen and you can do that without some level of guilt, but I think you need to know that those are effectively tools to help yourself perhaps in a down moment but they aren’t tools that are really going to help your child.”

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