Technology has become essential in our daily lives and relationships that it's almost impossible to unplug. But the way it is affecting our kids' growth and development and our family's well-being is a clear reminder that sometimes it's important to turn on our phone's "do not disturb" function.
Past studies have shown that children often feel neglected when their parents are constantly on their phones. Recently, children's excessive screen time has been linked to behavior issues and speech delays. But it's not only the kids' use of gadgets that may affect their language development -- the parent's gadget use can also be a factor.
A new study, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, looked at cell phone interruptions and how it affected 2-year-olds who are learning new words.
First, the moms were instructed to teach their tots two new invented words. One group of mom-and-child pairs had continuous word learning session, while the other group had the moms answer a 30-second phone call in the middle of the instruction. Some moms abruptly shifted their attention to the incoming call; other moms told their kids about the interruption before answering the call.
When the researchers tested how well the kids learned the new words, the results showed that toddlers were more likely to learn the invented words in uninterrupted conditions than toddlers whose moms had to answer a phone call, even just a brief one. Study lead author Jessa Reed of Temple University in Ohio and her team suggest that toddlers learn best when they are directly interacting with parents who attend to them.
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The first two to three years of a child's life is a crucial language learning opportunity for the kids as they're more receptive to verbal and non-verbal cues and thus learn word associations better. Psychologist Romeo Vitelli, Ph.D., wrote in his article for Psychology Today that a shift in the parents' attention away from their kids, including changes in eye contact, emotion, and body posture can lead to the toddler's need to "reset" their attention completely, too.
Developmental and cognitive psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of the Temple University Infant and Child Laboratory in Philadelphia and second author of the study, explained that strong language skills stem from the quality of interactions between parents and kids conversations. It's one of the core set of competencies a child needs to thrive in school and succeed as adults.
"If you have that back and forth conversation, the kids do well. If you break that conversation with a cellphone call or looking at a text what happens is you break the ability for this very important back and forth to happen, and the kids don’t learn," she explained at the Simms/Mann Institute Think Tank. She added that language learning isn't about hearing words, but also hearing them in engaged conversations.
Even in babies, phone-distracted parenting already comes at a cost. Consider unplugging from your phones when spending time with your kids. Here are some ways you can achieve this: Set your phones on silent mode (not vibrate) and keep them out of your sight or place them in a drawer where you can't see it light up whenever there's a new message or call.