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  • Teaching Your Baby His First Words? Don't Use Your Phone or Tablet

    Face-to-face conversations with your child is still the best brain booster.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Teaching Your Baby His First Words? Don't Use Your Phone or Tablet
  • There’s a reason experts release very strict screen time guidelines for infants and toddlers: previous research has found that children under the age of 30 months don’t learn much from watching content from a screen. In the first two years of a child’s life, what can make an impact on his growth and development the most is exploring the world on his own and having face-to-face interaction with parents and other family members. This sets the stage for learning how to communicate and absorbing new information.

    If screen time cannot be avoided, will video chatting, such as FaceTime, help promote learning in a child’s brain? After all, they are interacting with a person on the other side of the screen in real-time.

    Researchers from Vanderbilt University, led by Georgene Troseth, an associate professor from the university, studied 176 toddlers divided into two age groups (24 months and 30 months) to see which group would learn the name of an object best. The children who participated in the study had not experienced any form of video chatting before.

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    According to The Bump, researchers selected a “funny-shaped object that they chose to name a ‘modi.’” The toddlers were tasked to learn the name of the object and put it in a bin. They received instructions according to four conditions:

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    • Responsive live: The person making the request was present and engaged with the child
    • Unresponsive video: the speaker on the screen looked at the camera and smiled at scripted times
    • Unresponsive live: The person making the request was present but she behaved like the person on the unresponsive video
    • Responsive video: a speaker on closed-circuit video engaged with the child, just like in a real video chat

    Results showed that toddlers from the two age groups were able to learn the toy’s name in the responsive live condition, while older toddlers learned it in the unresponsive live condition. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), both groups did not learn the toy’s name in either of the video conditions.


    In other words, children find it hard to learn from a screen. Since a flat image on a screen isn’t real to a toddler, their brains tell them that what they’re seeing isn’t relevant and it is not something that they can learn from, says Troseth. And while a video chat can facilitate communication and social cues, it is still not enough to support learning, according to the study.

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    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with video calls, especially for those who use it to talk to parents who may be working abroad, or who would like to check up on their kids from time-to-time. But while using screens may be unavoidable for infants and toddlers, the study’s researchers reiterate that you may consider not relying on screens for your child’s learning. The best way for children to learn is still through positive interactions with adults.


    Something as simple as engaging in back-and-forth conversations with a parent can boost a child’s language and brain development. Not only will she be able to practice her communication skills — that is, understand what a person is saying and then respond appropriately — it will also hone her social skills.

    If you have an infant or a toddler, check your screen time habits, put the phone down, and talk to your child. Ask her questions, encourage her to think critically and to problem-solve, and try your best to explain how the world works. She’ll surely learn more from you than the screen.

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