islamabad-A new study found that children who spent more time with hand-held screens were more likely to exhibit a delay in expressive speech.

Hand-held screens might delay a child’s ability to form words. This is based on a new research being presented this week at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Francisco. This preliminary study is the first to show how mobile devices impact speech development in children, raising a question that fills the minds of many parents: How much time should my child spend with a mobile device?

But for parents who see mobile devices as an education tool, do not immediately lock away your smartphone or tablet. Here is what you should know about the risk. Studies on media usage and child development are notoriously difficult to conduct. Doctors cannot exactly split up a bunch of babies and say, “you kids spend a lot of time with your iPads, while the rest of you do not. Let’s see what happens.”

Birken and her team assessed each child with the Infant Toddler Checklist — a screening tool that looks for signs of delayed communication development. “It isn’t a definitive diagnosis,” Birken said, but it does assess whether a child is at-risk and needs to be referred for further evaluation. Birken emphasised that the findings, at this stage, do not prove cause and effect.

That would require a clinical trial where children are randomly selected and tracked throughout childhood. But this study highlights what could be a life-altering trend for children exposed to too much hand-held screen time because of the value of expressive speech.

“When kids cannot express themselves they get really frustrated,” said Jenny Radesky, a University of Michigan developmental pediatrician who was not involved in the study. “They are more likely to act out more or to use their bodies to try to communicate or use attention-seeking behaviours.”

In the short term, an expressive speech delay can influence a child’s ability to conceptualise words or define their emotions. Though some children who are behind at 18 months or 24 months can eventually catch up, over time, these language delays can impede literacy skills in grade school. “Early language delays have been linked with later academic problems or not finishing high school,” Radesky said.

Another study found out that depressive symptoms in women during and after child’ birth are linked to reduced thickness of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain responsible for complex thought and behaviour in preschool-age kids.

Lead researcher Catherine Lebel of the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada accompanied by the other researchers screened 52 women for depressive symptoms.

The women ranged in the presence of symptoms, some with no or few symptoms, and some meeting the screening criteria for depression.

Women with higher depressive symptoms tended to have children with thinner frontal and temporal areas, cortical regions implicated in tasks involving inhibition and attention control.

The researchers also found an association between depressive symptoms and abnormal white matter in the frontal area, the fiber tracts connecting the region to other areas in the brain.

These associations were only found when symptoms occurred during the second trimester and post-partum, suggesting these periods are particularly critical times for child brain development.

Abnormalities in brain structure during critical periods in development have often been associated with negative outcomes, such as learning disabilities and behavioural disorders, the researchers said.