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Toddlers’ Fine Motor Milestone Achievement Is Associated with Early Touchscreen Scrolling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Rachael Bedford, Irati R. Saez de Urabain, Celeste H. M. Cheung, Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Tim J Smith

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
DOIs
StatePublished - 2 Aug 2016

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Abstract

Touchscreen technologies provide an intuitive and attractive source of sensory/cognitive stimulation for young children. Despite fears that usage may have a negative impact on toddlers’ cognitive development, empirical evidence is lacking. The current study presents results from the UK Toddler Attentional Behaviours and LEarning with Touchscreens (TABLET) project, examining the association between toddlers’ touchscreen use and the attainment of developmental milestones. Data were gathered in an online survey of 715 parents of 6- to 36-month-olds to address two research questions: (1) How does touchscreen use change from 6 to 36 months? (2) In toddlers (19–36 months, i.e., above the median age, n = 366), how does retrospectively reported age of first touchscreen usage relate to gross motor (i.e., walking), fine motor (i.e., stacking blocks), and language (i.e., producing two-word utterances) milestones? In our sample, the proportion of children using touchscreens, as well as the average daily usage time, increased with age (youngest quartile, 6–11 months: 51.22% users, 8.53 min per day; oldest quartile, 26–36 months: 92.05% users, average use of 43.95 min per day). In toddlers, aged 19–36 months, age of first touchscreen use was significantly associated with fine motor (stacking blocks), p = 0.03, after controlling for covariates age, sex, mother’s education (a proxy for socioeconomic status) as well as age of early fine motor milestone achievement (pincer grip). This effect was only present for active scrolling of the touchscreen p = 0.04, not for video watching. No significant relationships were found between touchscreen use and either gross motor or language milestones. Touchscreen use increases rapidly over the first 3 years of life. In the current study, we find no evidence to support a negative association between the age of first touchscreen usage and developmental milestones. Indeed, earlier touchscreen use, specifically scrolling of the screen, was associated with earlier fine motor achievement. Future longitudinal studies are required to elucidate the temporal order and mechanisms of this association, and to examine the impact of touchscreen use on other, more fine-grained, measures of behavioral, cognitive, and neural development.

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