Are Electronic Toys Good Or Bad For Babies?
As any parent already knows, babies are often fascinated by electronic toys. But do these toys provide cognitive and developmental benefits for babies? The world of electronic toys can be confusing for parents to navigate. But recent research has shed a new light on whether electronic toys are good or bad for children. Here’s what you need to know:
What are Electronic Toys?
Electronic toys are more popular than ever. You can find a wide selection for kids of all ages, even babies. Electronic toys are basically any toys which light up, play songs, talk or similar. They can be powered by batteries or electricity.
Most electronic toys for babies speak or play music. Mobiles and other crib toys are popular, as well as stuffed animals which talk and sing. Small playsets with interactive electronic elements are also very popular.
Electronic toys are often presented as being educational toys. Listening to toys sing and speak helps kids learn language and concepts – or, at least, that’s the claim. After all, children learn language by listening to and imitating adults. But do the same benefits still apply if the language “spoken” by an electronic toy?
Results of a Recent Study on Electronic Toys
An interesting new study from Northern Arizona University raises some doubts about how educational electronic toys really are. The latest research actually suggests that talking and singing toys don’t enhance a child’s verbal abilities. Instead, electronic toys might actually hinder more than they help.
Twenty-six pairs of parents were enlisted in the study. Each had at least one child between the ages of 10 and 16 months. The study was conducted over a period of months using audio equipment to record sounds in the participants’ homes.
For the study, each family received three sets of toys:
- Set #1 – Electronic toys including a baby laptop, baby “cell phone” and talking farm toy
- Set #2 – Traditional toys including wooden toys, rubber blocks and a shape-sorter
- Set #3 – Five board-books with themes relating to animals, shapes and color
The audio equipment monitored the interaction levels for each set of toys. Results were surprising. Electronic toys generally produced a lower quantity and quality of interaction than the non-electronic toys.
During the times when the children played with toys from Set #1, they were less vocal overall than when playing with Set #2 and #3. Parents were influenced in a similar fashion. When their children were playing with electronic toys, parents were less likely to interact with them verbally. There was less back-and-forth dialogue between parents and kids when kids were playing an electronic device.
Additionally, kids used less content-specific words when playing with electronic toys. Content-specific words help measure a child’s imagination and engagement. If they’re not talking about what they’re doing, they’re likely not very engaged in the activity.
What are the Most Engaging Toys?
Researchers found that books created the most dialogue between babies and parents. The young one doesn’t have to know how to read or even understand the details of the story to benefit. Simply reading out loud helps develop language skills in children.
The best toys for verbal development encourage conversation. Often, toys which parents and children can play with together are best for learning new concepts and content-specific words. This is another reason why books are so effective. Books present a story which allows children to imagine new scenarios and language uses as they discuss the story with parents.
How Do Children Process Electronic Toys?
Adults and children process information on screens differently. For an adult, info on a screen doesn’t require a ton of attention. For example, adults can hold conversations, read and perform similar activities without being distracted by a TV.
Infants and toddlers aren’t the same. To a small child, a TV is an almost overwhelming source of fun lights, sounds and activity. Many infants will stare straight at the screen ignoring any and all distractions. While this isn’t a huge deal for an occasional movie, excessive screen time does limit human interaction.
Electronic games provide an additional level of distraction. Games are designed to provide fast feedback. That’s why kids can sit motionless for hours playing a game but remain distracted at slower-paced activities like listening in class and reading.
Are Electronic Toys Bad for Babies?
Electronic toys aren’t 100% bad for little ones. You don’t have to feel guilty if your child enjoys playing with electronic toys on occasion. Just make sure to follow certain ground rules:
Video chatting through Skype and FaceTime is usually fine for just about any age. Babies are even capable of recognizing the images and voices of familiar relatives like grandparents. At worst, babies will be indifferent to video chatting.
You don’t want to introduce your child to screen-based entertainment until the age of two. While some electronic toys can be fine for babies, make sure they’re physical toys the baby can hold.
Babies have poor vision, so they’re often interested in toys with bright colors and plenty of sounds. Toys which make noise often help kids remain engaged.
Finally, make sure passive electronic play is always balanced by activity. For babies, active toys provide plenty of ways to touch, move and stay active. Toys should help a young child develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Don’t Overlook The Classics
You can’t really go wrong with classic toys. Simple wooden blocks, stuffed animals, baby dolls, and hands-on activity sets like marble runs will certainly always have a place in a child’s toybox. However, some electronic toys do have developmental benefits, too.
You do want to stay away from screens and other passive entertainment, especially for children under the age of two. Video games and movies don’t particularly help a child develop language or other social skills.
Electronic or not, the best toys encourage interaction between parents and children. It’s this interaction which is the secret to emotional and physical development. So, don’t worry too much about the type of toy. Instead, focus on how the toy is played with, as that’s the best way for your child to learn and grow.