A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation

Mom and Dad: Put Your Cellphone Down, Too!

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — There’s been plenty of evidence suggesting that parents should limit their child’s cellphone use. But now, researchers say there are times when mom and dad need to shut off their own phones, too! A new study by child psychologists at Temple University suggests that sudden cellphone interruptions could impact a toddler’s language skills.

Jennifer Bell is a Philadelphia area mom using her cellphone in the pursuit of science. Child psychologists asked Bell to teach a new word to her two-year old, but also answer a strategically timed cellphone call. Researchers at Temple University’s Language Learning Lab wanted to know whether or not the interruption by the call caused the language learning process to halt. Turns out it does.

“The child doesn’t learn the word when they’re interrupted and does learn the word when you have a conversation,” explained Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, a child psychologist at Temple University.

Scientists hypothesized that young kids would learn better in a live back-and-forth conversation. They say that without human social connection, very little learning is accomplished. They call this the “socially gated brain.”

Hirsh-Pasek continued, “It’s not just about the quantity, but this kind of research shows us it’s about the quality as well. Preserving that conversation is what matters. As researchers, we want to understand that a little bit better. What works, what doesn’t work, and why.”

“It was kind of a moment,” Bell told Ivanhoe. “There are times that my kids are on devices or I’m on the phone and I am feeling like, hmm, should I be teaching them something and are we passing up learning moments?”

So, what can parents do to build children’s language skills? Turn off your cellphone when you are with your child. Start with a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation and work your way up. Draw your child in by noticing and commenting on what he’s doing. Also understand that language skills you foster now may help your child later in reading and in math. There are critical moments now that could build a solid foundation for learning later.

As if that information wasn’t enough to make you rethink your cellphone habits, researchers at the University of Texas found merely having a smartphone nearby reduces brain power. In a study of 800 cellphone users, researchers found those with their phones in another room did better on tests than those with their phones on their desks.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, Assistant Producer; Bob Walko, Editor; Kirk Manson, Videographer.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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