Researchers Question “Educational” Electronic Toys

Electronic Toys Discourage Language DevelopmentAn new study reported today published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests what most of us intuitively know: electronic toys contribute far less to the quantity and quality of language development in children, especially very young children, than playing with books or more traditional toys, wooden puzzles, blocks and the like.

Researchers from Northern Arizona University monitored the playtime interaction of parents and children aged 10 to 16 months. Participants were provided three sets of toys: electronic toys, traditional toys and five board books with farm animal, shape or color themes.

They observed a measurable decrease in the quantity and quality of language input when the children played with electronic toys – a baby laptop, a talking farm and a baby cell phone.

Specific observations included:

  • Fewer adult words
  • Fewer conversational turns with verbal back and forth
  • Few parental responses
  • Less production of content-specific words – meaning parents aren’t naming objects so the toddler learns new words.

“These results provide a basis for discouraging the purchase of electronic toys that are promoted as educational and are often quite expensive,” the authors conclude. “These results add to the large body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of book reading with very young children.”

The authors also caution against believing the “educational” claims of manufacturers of electronic toys.

These conclusions track the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics which discourages media use by children younger than two years of age and emphasizes the importance of book reading and other types of parent-child play time.

Source: Sosa A, et al. Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play with the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. JAMA Pediatrics. 2015.