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30 May 2013

Rich Mother-Child Play Interaction? Not While Playing With Flashy Toys

Keywords: babies, education, learning, observation, parents, North America, experiment, survey, technology,

Many parents buy their newborns electronic toys (battery-powered or digital). Babies love to play with electronic toys, as they are drawn to the beeping, blinking, and flashing. However a study published in the Journal of Applied Development Psychology shows that the quality of mother-child interaction suffers under electronic toy play. Mothers are less responsive, encouraging, and educative with their babies (16-24 months of age) while playing with electronic toys than while playing with non-electronic toys.  

Take aways

  • Electronic toys (battery-powered or digital) decrease the quality of mother-child play interactions. 
  • Mothers play less interactive (i.e., less responsive, encouraging, and educative) with their babies when playing with electronic toys than with non-electronic toys. 
  • Because of the benefits of parent-child play on babies learning and social skill development, it’s wise to stimulate parents to keep interacting with their babies while playing with electronic toys. 

Study information

  • The question?

    Do electronic toys (battery-powered or digital) influence the quality of play interactions between mother and baby?

  • Who?

    25 babies, between 16 and 24 months of age (mean age: 19 months; 76% were Caucasian, 12% East Asian, and 12% had mixed racial backgrounds) and their mothers 

  • Where?

    Southern British Columbia, Canada

  • How?

    Parent-child play interactions were recorded and observed at the participants’ home for 20- to 30-minutes with a checklist named ‘The Parents Interacting with Children Checklist of Observation Linked to Outcomes’ (PICCOLO). This checklist looked at 29 different parent-child play interactions, such as expressions, responses, and supports. Mothers were instructed to play with both electronic (i.e., battery-powered or digital) and non-electronic toys. They were asked about the amount of electronic toys present in their homes and their perceived benefits of joint play as well. 

Facts and findings

  • Mothers played less interactive with their babies when they played together with electronic toys than with non-electronic toys:
    • Mothers were less responsive (e.g., contact-making, interested);
    • less encouraging (e.g., supportive, creative);
    • and less educative (e.g., asked less questions, repeated less words) (See Figure 1). 
  • Mother’s showed as much affection (e.g., smiling, tone of voice) while playing with electronic as with non-electronic toys. 
  • Almost half of the toys babies own were electronic. 
  • The vast majority of the mothers (88%) believed that playing with their child stimulated their babies cognition (e.g., learning, problem solving).
  • Joint play was also viewed beneficial for the development of social skills (48%), perceptual motor-skills (44%), creativity (36%), and language (24%). 
  • Critical note: The researchers studied only 25 mothers together with their babies, and the conclusions may not hold for all mother-child play interactions.