Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Electronic Toys: The Impact on Infant Playtime

As a parent, you may still be experiencing toy overload at your house. Between holiday gifts from friends, family, grandparents, and others, your child may have received an abundance of toys. In this barrage of items, they undoubtedly received many electronic toys in the mix. You may wonder if these electronic toys offer any added benefits than the traditional toys or books that kids typically receive.

Luckily, some new research is examining this topic. This new study from Northern Arizona University looked at the following:

- 26 child-parent pairs
- children were ages 10-16 months old
- the authors compared three types of toys: (1) electronic (e.g., baby laptop); (2) traditional toy (e.g., blocks or sorting toy); (3) board books

The researchers fitted the families' homes with audio recording equipment to monitor how language changed as they interacted with each of the toys.

The results showed some interesting findings: when playing with electronic toys there were fewer adults words, fewer back-and-forth conversation between parent and child and fewer parent responses to the child. As compared to playing with books, children also vocalized less when playing with electronic toys.

When comparing playing with traditional toys versus books, it was also found that parents used fewer words with traditional toys than books.

Overall, most of the differences in word use were:

-  between electronic toys and books,

- followed by electronic toys and traditional toys

Okay, so why is this important? Is it really important how much a parent talks to their child during play with toys? Not surprisingly, the clear answer is "yes." The language interaction between children and parent (especially infants on the cusp of learning language) is crucial not only to language development, but social skills and interpersonal interaction.

Electronic toys, however, are pretty much ubiquitous. Young children are very attracted to them. So what is a parent to do? Electronic toys can be helpful if used sparingly. We all need a few minutes to do dishes or cook a meal and these toys can be good distractions for a few minutes. It's good, however, to keep in mind that you as a parent are the best "toy" for your infant. Talking to him/her over toys and books is the best way for her/him to learn language and interaction skills.

Most infants do not have the attention span to listen to a book for long but if you get in the habit of doing dialogic reading, or as one article put it, "dialogic living" then the ongoing flow of words just comes naturally. This simply means narrating to your child what you are doing as you go about your daily routine--you can describe how you work the washing machine or how you cook an egg. This "dialogic living" is great entertainment for your infant and makes things more fun for you too.
Sosa, A. (2015). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play With the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication JAMA Pediatrics DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753
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