Electronic devices: children who use them for three hours lose a thousand of their parents’ words every day

Electronic devices: children who use them for three hours lose a thousand of their parents’ words every day

Over a thousand words from parents, 840 vocalizations and almost 200 fewer conversations per day: this is how the ‘vocabulary’ of children who spend an average of three hours a day in front of electronic devices is impoverished. This is according to a study conducted by researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute together with the Universities of Adelaide, Oxford and the Menzies Health Institute of Griffith University just published in the journal Jama Pediatrics.

The investigation has revealed – data in hand – that, for every minute of exposure of young children to the screen of an electronic device, there is a decrease in the number of words heard by adults, in the vocalizations emitted by children and in conversations with parents.


The research, led by Mary Brushe, Senior Research Officer at the Telethon Kids Institute, monitored 220 Australian families over two and a half years to assess the relationship between family screen use and children’s language skills. For the evaluation, devices similar to Fitbits were used to measure the amount of ‘electronic noises’ used in the family and dialogues between parents and children between 12 and 36 months.

The families who participated in the study did not know that device usage time would be measured. In this way, researchers were able to have a more realistic view of young children’s screen exposure because parents did not unconsciously alter their habits.

An analysis of 7 thousand hours of audio

Worn at home by children for 16-hour periods at multiple times (at 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 months of age), the devices, using Lena voice recognition technology, detected the number of words spoken by adults, infant vocalizations and parent-infant interactions during the recorded period. In total, the researchers coded more than 7,000 hours of audio to calculate the amount of screen time children spent compared to other electronic noises.

“We wanted to understand how long children in their early years were exposed to electronic screens and whether this interfered with the amount of words these children heard and spoke at home,” Brushe said, adding: “We know that the time spent talking and the interaction that children experience is critical to their early language development. Our study highlights that screen time may hinder this process.”

The impact of ‘technoference’

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) Pediatrics, show that the more time children spend in front of the screen, the less parent-child interaction occurs during critical developmental years.

According to the researchers, these results demonstrate the impact of the so-called ‘technoference’, i.e. the excessive use of technological devices, on the opportunities for dialogue and interaction in the family environment. “The results – explained Brushe – were most evident when the children reached three years of age. Just one minute of screen time was associated with seven fewer adult words, five fewer infant vocalizations and an interaction with fewer parents.”

A ‘vocabulary’ with a thousand fewer words

The World Health Organization Guidelines stipulate that children aged 36 months should not spend more than one hour a day in front of screens of electronic devices. If parents followed these guidelines, according to researchers, children, once they become adults, could lose up to 397 words spoken by adults, 294 vocalizations and 68 conversations every day. The problem is that, according to international estimates, children on average far exceed the recommendations of the Guidelines.

“Based on the average time the 36-month-olds in this study spent in front of a screen, just under three hours, they could be missing up to 1,139 adult words, 843 vocalizations and 194 conversations per day.

The importance of interacting

According to researchers, although the use of devices has now become part of the daily routine of many, there are strategies to mitigate their effects on the little ones. “It is important for parents or caregivers to reflect on any interests and activities that children may neglect in favor of the screen,” explained Brushe who suggests adopting an interactive and participatory vision.

“It is essential that family members interact with children even when the screens are on, for example by singing the theme tunes of the programs together, repeating phrases or questions that arise during viewing, and using the topics covered in the programs as conversation starters once the screen is turned off. device”. Specific interventions aimed at supporting parents to provide them with the necessary skills to choose quality educational digital content, appropriate to the child’s age, which promote language learning and socialization could also be useful.

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