PhotoIn an increasingly chaotic world, quality time between parents and children can come at a premium. Financial, work, or other familial circumstances can inhibit the amount of direct play time between a parent and child, making it more important than ever to optimize the quality of play time when it comes your way. But could electronic toys be putting a damper on the quantity and quality of play time with your child?

According to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics, electronic toys that produce lights, words, and songs were associated with decreased quantity and quality of language compared to playing with books, puzzles, or blocks.

Different types of toys

The experiment, conducted by Anna V. Sosa, Ph.D., of Northern Arizona University and her colleagues, used audio recordings of 26 parent-infant pairs in their homes, each with children who were 10 to 16 months old.

Participants were given three sets of toys: electronic toys (a baby laptop, a talking farm, and a baby cell phone); traditional toys (chunky wooden puzzle, shape-sorter, and rubber blocks with pictures); and five board books with farm animal, shape, or color themes.

The results? The electronics did most of the talking.

Fewer vocalizations

While playing with electronic toys, there were fewer adult words used, fewer conversational turns with verbal back-and-forth, fewer parental responses, and less production of content-specific words than when playing with traditional toys or books. Children also vocalized less while playing with electronic toys than with books. 

Suffice it to say, this lack of communication is not ideal. During a period of time in which kids' brains are tripling in size, getting the most out of play is crucial.

Traditional toys, however, are not the only route to optimizing play time says the study.

Engaging children

While study findings may appear to have provided a basis for discouraging the purchase of electronic toys, the potential benefits of these types of toys were not outright dismissed. The study simply concluded that digital features should be utilized to engage children with the real world instead of closing them off from it.

"Any digital enhancement should serve a clear purpose to engage the child not only with the toy/app, but also transfer that engagement to others and the world around them to make what they learned meaningful and generalizable,” the study concluded.

“Digital features have enormous potential to engage children in play, but it is important the child not get stuck in the toy/app's closed loop to the exclusion of real-world engagement.”

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