How Your Phone Habits Could Affect Your Child’s Language Development

Research has linked parental cell phone usage to impaired language development in kids. Keep reading to learn more about the connection, plus tips for weaning off your cell phone at home.

ByLeanne Sherred, MS, CCC-SLP

Published on October 10, 2023

Your phone contains a whole world: work, friends, news, games. No wonder it’s so easy to get pulled into your screen! 

But if you’re often focused on your phone when you’re with your child, it might be affecting their language development and communication skills. That’s because distracted parents spend less time engaging in meaningful interactions,1 giving children fewer opportunities to learn.  

As a speech therapist, I want to stress the importance of lending your child some undivided attention free of texting, scrolling, and using apps. Keep reading to learn why distracted parenting (specifically in relation to cell phones) can hinder your child’s development. You’ll also learn some tips for positively changing your phone habits.

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How Do Parents Impact Language Development?

The foundation for speech and language starts at home, when your child is just a baby. Indeed, studies have shown that when parents often speak with their infant, they develop stronger verbal abilities as they get older.2 Even “parentese” (the higher-pitched speaking style often used when speaking to babies) improves language skills and encourages back-and-forth speech—although exposure to “adult” speech is also important.3

When parents are distracted, such as when they’re using a mobile device, they feel less connected with their child overall.1 This could lead to decreased communication, which causes the child to miss out on key opportunities for growth. After all, children learn best from interactions with their caregivers.

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What’s the Role of Parental Cell Phone Usage?

Parental phone distraction might hinder a child’s communication development by lessening the quality of interactions. Take one study that involved parent communication with their children during mealtime. Researchers found that when a parent is on their phone, they have 20% less verbal communication with their child. They also have 39% less nonverbal communication, which might include facial expressions, eye contact, and body language.4

Another study found that parental cell phone usage is linked to decreased awareness and sensitivity. It also prompts the feeling that time spent with their child isn’t satisfactory.5

What’s more, when parents are interrupted by their devices (called technoference), it impacts the way they communicate. In turn, children are less likely to pick up on important social skills like maintaining eye contact, focusing on the person they’re commuting with, and responsiveness—all of which can affect their language development in the future.6

Finally, research demonstrates that distracted parents might have less success when teaching their children new things, including language. One study focused on 38 parents introducing their toddlers to new words. When the parent was interrupted by their cell phone, the children didn’t end up learning the word—but they had no problems learning it without the interruption.7

You might dismiss your smartphone usage as normal, but all of the missed interactions add up, as this evidence suggests. It’s best to regulate your phone usage and develop healthy habits around your kids.

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