Research: Parents help children's learning by limiting own cell phone use

Credit: Chung Sung-Jun

Credit: Chung Sung-Jun

Researchers are telling parents to put their cell phones down.

A study conducted by researchers at Temple University suggests that parents should limit their cell phone use around young children because too much use can hinder the youngsters' learning skills, KABC reported.

In the study, child psychiatrists asked Jennifer Bell to teach a new word to her 2-year-old, but also to answer a strategically timed cell phone call. Scientists at Temple’s language learning lab were trying to determine if the interruption caused by the call caused the learning process to stop, KABC reported. The result? It does.

“The child doesn’t learn the word when interrupted and does learn the word when you have a conversation, psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek said.

Scientists hypothesized that young children learn better in a live back-and-forth conversation. They discovered that without human social connection, very little learning is accomplished, KABC reported.

Experts call this the “socially gated brain.”

"It's not just about the quantity, but this kind of research shows us it's about the quality as well,” Hirsh-Pasek told KABC. “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.”

For Bell, “It was kind of an ‘aha’” moment.

“There are times that my kids are on devices or I'm on the phone, and I am feeling, hmmm, should I be teaching them something and are we passing up learning moments?” she said.

There are things parents can do to build up children's language skills, researchers said.

First, turn off cellphones when interacting with a child. Start with a few minutes of uninterrupted conversation and work your way up. Also, draw your child in by noticing and commenting on what he or she is doing, KABC reported.