As technological advances come at a breakneck speed, people are spending more time with technological devices than ever before. Whether it’s the television, your smartphone, or a tablet, odds are you spend a significant portion of your day looking at a screen. We’ve all seen the impact this can have on our interpersonal communication—who hasn’t been around someone who constantly checks their phone during a social gathering or professional event? People often think of being disconnected and distracted by technology as an adult problem. However this can be even more detrimental to little technology users.
The main problem with technology is not that it in and of itself is harmful for young children. The problem is that technology takes away from valuable time that could be spent in meaningful communication. A recent study exposed young children to two types of videos. In one condition an adult talked to the child live via video chat. In the second condition, the child watched a pre-recorded video in which the adult produced child directed speech, and allowed time for response (e.g., “Where is your nose? Can you point to your nose?”). The researchers found that even though the content of both video types were nearly identical, children exposed to the live stream with direct interaction were significantly more likely to successfully learn new vocabulary words presented during the experiment.
The moral of the story? No matter how engaging or educational the television show or app, nothing measures up to human interaction for helping children learn language. Whenever possible, read to your child or play a game instead of watching television with them. And when you do have screen time with your child, try to make it as interactive as possible.
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