Distracted Parents

in Early Childhood in the News


Does the time adults spend with their mobile devices affect the way children learn language?

That is the question Deborah Fallows, a linguist, asks in her article, Papa, Don’t Text: The Perils of Distracted Parenting, in The Atlantic.

“These days, most adults engage in one-sided conversations on their cellphones, or else text in complete silence,” says Fallows. Whether it’s a stroller ride or a trip to the grocery store, parents are engaged on smart phones rather than talking with their children. Is interactive talk with children necessary for early language learning?

Since research on the effects of technology is scarce, Fallows looks at the documented research we do have on the quality and quantity of a child’s exposure to words in early language learning.

In 2009, Pediatrics published a complete study that showed, “children’s language abilities and eventual academic success are linked to the sheer volume of words they are exposed to early on … and the quality of linguistic exposure, not just its quantity, matters.”

Two other fascinating studies in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 looked at the language learning of infants. Both concluded the same. Babies whose moms interacted with them in person “vocalized more, with more complex sounds, and articulated more accurately” than children whose mothers did not interact or used electronic devices for language learning.

In fact, studies on the effects of parent-child interaction on language production all say the same thing: parents talking to their babies, playing with trucks and dolls, and making toy sounds is the critical ingredient for their child’s language learning. There is no replacement for social interaction.

As Fallows concludes, “How ironic is that? In this era when child-rearing is the focus of unprecedented imagination, invention and expense, something as simple and pleasurable as conversing with our children can be overlooked?”

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