Young families were one of the first to adopt high-tech in their lives, and my wife and me too: the tablet has helped us a lot while traveling with our sons.
But this new study gives some warning lights. When babies and toddlers play with a tablet or other noisy device, they often play alone, which can be detrimental to their development, according to Sarah Hill and Bradford Wiles. Research has shown that children need meaningful interaction with adults to reach their full social potential. Do note: it’s not the tablet itself it’s causing the effect, but it has indirect effects. Do note too that the amount of participants is rather small.
From the press release:
When buying toys for children, choosing the flashiest toy with all of the bells and whistles might seem like the best option. But in fact, these high-tech toys could actually slow a baby’s development of verbal skills.
The reason behind this could be traced to less verbal interaction between parents and children. In a study by Northern Arizona University, researchers found that although these noisy toys captured the child’s attention, they didn’t produce quality interactions between the parent and child.
“Even as toddlers, you don’t want to isolate children from each other,” said Kansas State University assistant professor Bradford Wiles. “What you want are things that can be shared that involve a dialogue back and forth with peers and especially with adults.”
When children play with a tablet or other noisy device, they often play alone, and these effects can be detrimental to their development, Wiles, a K-State Research and Extension early child development specialist, said. Children need meaningful interaction with adults to reach their full social potential.
“Research results are starting to indicate that when children isolate themselves through the use of these tablets, they are not able to regulate their emotions as well, and they’re not able to get along as well with their peers,” Wiles said.
In addition, what tends to happen when children are given a fancy new tablet, or other form of flashy toy, is they don’t soak in the information presented to them. This can render these tablets as an expensive way to waste development time.
“We’re teaching children how to use a tablet, but the information that’s on the tablet, the children aren’t really retaining,” Wiles said. “So we think we’re teaching them things like letters and numbers, but what we’re really teaching them well is how to use a touch screen.”
Opportunities to enhance verbal development
Wiles said research has shown that children who read books with their parents had far better dialogue skills than children who are constantly presented with noisy toys.
“Learning to read is a necessarily engaged activity, so you have to have somebody mentoring you through that process,” he explained.
Puzzles offer another great opportunity to interact with children.
“You can give a 12-piece puzzle to a 2-year-old and help that child learn how it works,” Wiles said. “It’s going to be difficult at first, but it can help children and adults learn about each other.”
He advises parents to consider that any activities involving positive interaction seem to help a child’s verbal development the most. Therefore, it’s the basic interaction between parents and children that allow children to blossom. Just because an expensive toy is marketed to make babies or toddlers “smarter” doesn’t necessarily mean that it will.
“Anything you’re doing as a parent that involves play — creative play, imaginative play — that’s going to do it anyway,” Wiles said. “Any other artificial means are just that, just artificial. It’s the simple things we know that work.”
However, Wiles said it is important to remember that as children get older, it’s okay for them to start going off on their own to do things.
“Once children master reading, certainly it is no problem for them to go read on their own,” Wiles said. “The progression goes, ‘You learn to read, and then you read to learn.'”
Abstract of the paper:
Importance The early language environment of a child influences language outcome, which in turn affects reading and academic success. It is unknown which types of everyday activities promote the best language environment for children.
Objective To investigate whether the type of toy used during play is associated with the parent-infant communicative interaction.
Design, Setting, and Participants Controlled experiment in a natural environment of parent-infant communication during play with 3 different toy sets. Participant recruitment and data collection were conducted between February 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. The volunteer sample included 26 parent-infant (aged 10-16 months) dyads.
Exposures Fifteen-minute in-home parent-infant play sessions with electronic toys, traditional toys, and books.
Main Outcomes and Measures Numbers of adult words, child vocalizations, conversational turns, parent verbal responses to child utterances, and words produced by parents in 3 different semantic categories (content-specific words) per minute during play sessions.
Results Among the 26 parent-infant dyads, toy type was associated with all outcome measures. During play with electronic toys, there were fewer adult words (mean, 39.62; 95% CI, 33.36-45.65), fewer conversational turns (mean, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.12-2.19), fewer parental responses (mean, 1.31; 95% CI, 0.87-1.77), and fewer productions of content-specific words (mean, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.49-2.35) than during play with traditional toys or books. Children vocalized less during play with electronic toys (mean per minute, 2.9; 95% CI, 2.16-3.69) than during play with books (mean per minute, 3.91; 95% CI, 3.09-4.68). Parents produced fewer words during play with traditional toys (mean per minute, 55.56; 95% CI, 46.49-64.17) than during play with books (mean per minute, 66.89; 95% CI, 59.93-74.19) and use of content-specific words was lower during play with traditional toys (mean per minute, 4.09; 95% CI, 3.26-4.99) than during play with books (mean per minute, 6.96; 95% CI, 6.07-7.97).
Conclusions and Relevance Play with electronic toys is associated with decreased quantity and quality of language input compared with play with books or traditional toys. To promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged. Traditional toys may be a valuable alternative for parent-infant play time if book reading is not a preferred activity.