PhotoThe jury is still out on whether or not touchscreens may delay children’s cognitive development, but a new study finds that smartphones and tablets could enhance toddlers’ motor skills.

The study, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, finds that the scrolling involved in touchscreen use can help foster a child’s fine motor control.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAPs) doesn’t recommend exposing kids to any screens before the age of two, study author Dr. Tim J. Smith of Birbeck, University of London knew that, in reality, many toddlers use touchscreens regularly.

In an effort to produce more data on the effects of touchscreen use during early childhood, Smith created an online survey. Parents were asked to answer questions such as how often their child uses a touchscreen and how old they were when they first used one.

Daily exposure is common

In addition to questions pertaining to the frequency of touchscreen use, the survey also included questions on children’s development.

Questions such as “How old was your child when they first stacked blocks?” and “At what age did they use their first two-word sentence?” were intended to help determine the age at which certain milestones were reached.

The answers provided by the 715 families who responded showed that daily touchscreen use is “extremely common” among toddlers in the UK. Smith noted the majority of toddlers have “daily exposure to touchscreen devices, increasing from 51.22% at 6-11 months to 92.05% at 19-36 months."

No significant associations

What researchers did not uncover, however, were any significant associations between touchscreen use and walking or language development. But with regard to fine motor skill development, touchscreens seemed to help.

“In toddlers aged 19-36 months, we found that the age that parents reported their child first actively scrolling a touchscreen was positively associated with the age that they were first able to stack blocks, a measure of fine motor control,” Smith explained.

The researchers say further research is needed to determine if touchscreens can boost fine motor skills, or if it is simply that kids with fine motor skills are more likely to use touchscreens earlier.

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