New York, US (BBN)-Baby laptops, baby cellphones, talking farms- these are the toys of the moment, marketed as tools to encourage babies’ language skills.
But a new study raises questions about whether such electronic playthings make it less likely that babies will engage in the verbal give and take with their parents that is so crucial to cognitive development, reports The Times of India.
The study found that when babies and parents played with electronic toys, parents spoke less and responded less to baby babbling than when they played with traditional toys like blocks or read board books.
Babies also vocalised less when playing with electronic toys.
“My hunch is that they were letting the baby interact with the toy and they were on the sidelines,” said Anna V Sosa, an associate professor of communications science, who led the study.
“What you get is more behavioral regulation stuff, like ‘don’t touch that’ or ‘do this,’ or nothing because the books and toys take it over for you,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology.
She added, “A toy should be 10% toy and 90% child, and with a lot of these electronic toys, the toy takes over 90% and the child just fills in the blank.”
Sosa said she had expected some parent-baby pairs would talk more with one type of toy, while others would talk more with another.
But the results were consistent almost across the board.
When electronic toys were being used, parents said about 40 words per minute, on average, compared with 56 words per minute for traditional toys and 67 words per minute with books.
They also used fewer words that were relevant to the content of the toy, like saying “Oh, that’s a piggy,” or “That barn is red.”
Words like that were said over four times as often with books than electronic toys, and more than twice as often with traditional toys than electronic ones.
Erica Jones, 39, and her son Devlin Willy, now 3, participated in the study when Devlin was 10 months old. Jones, a teacher, said when Devlin was a baby, “I would sometimes talk to fill up the space.”
But she realised that with electronic toys “if there’s this other noise already there, I didn’t really feel like I wanted to talk.”
Jones found the findings useful because “the busier I get, the more easy it is to let him play with electronic toys, and it reminds me to away from that.”