We are pleased to bring you the first post in a series of Digital Media and Children Under 3. This series is brought to you with collaboration from the journal, Child Behavior and Development. In the coming weeks, posts in this series will highlight research from a special issue focused on how young children interact with technology and ways parents can facilitate media engagement to promote positive development.
Key takeaways for caregivers
- Playing with toys is an important activity for caregivers and babies to do together to support healthy development.
- When caregivers read the descriptions of the toy manufacturers, they are more likely to choose technology toys, but research suggests that these toys may have many disadvantages, such as reduced intimacy. -togetherness between caregivers and infants and less language use during play.
- Reading toy descriptions with a critical eye is a great way to buy high-quality toys for babies.
Select specific toys can positively affect the child’s development
Many parents, caregivers, and family members face the challenge of choosing a toy as a gift for a child. What do they like? What do they own? What toy is best for them? And most confusingly, how do I choose which toy from what seem like hundreds and hundreds of options? No wonder the choice feels overwhelming: Toys are big business – a $40 billion dollars industry in the United States by 2022.
Beyond their role in the market, however, toys are important for the development of infants because they play an important role in supporting and encouraging play. Toys encourage physical activity, such as tossing and catching a ball or pushing a toy train around the room. They can also provide a jumping off point for the development of social interaction between individuals, for example, when two children share and play with toys.
Toys can too expand children’s thinking while they use it to represent other things, like a toy phone instead of a smartphone. And they can also support the expression of creativity, as happens when children use blocks to build a structure.
Playing with toys is not only about the toy itself, but also about how individuals interact with each other while they play.
The importance of playing with toys for the development of infants is well established. But one more important thing is important to consider – the idea that interactions between caregivers and babies during play (with or without toys) help support children’s thinking and thinking. social development.
For example, when caregivers and infants engage in repeated interactions focused on the same topic or object of interest, infants may learn new words and develop an understanding of how to take turns in conversation. In other words, playing with toys is not only about the toy itself, but also about how individuals interact with each other while they play.
The choice of technological toys can negatively affect the development of children
Toys are powerful tools for development and can support important caregiver-child interactions. But are all toys equal in terms of their potential to promote high-quality interactions?
In short, probably not. In particular, research suggests that technological or electronic toys – those that require batteries to operate – can have negative effects on how caregivers and infants play and talk during their playful interactions. For example, when using electronic toys, caregivers may talk more about how to operate the toy (eg, use additional commands such as, “Push the button”) instead of allowing infants to direct the interaction or ask open-ended questions.
How do caregivers approach decisions about purchasing toys?
Because toys are important tools for supporting cognitive and social development, and the types of toys caregivers and children play with may differentially affect important interactions, we need to better understand whether how caregivers approach purchasing toys for their infants.
To check this item, we conducted a study with caregivers. We asked how they buy toys for their babies. We also examine whether and how manufacturers’ claims about specific developmental benefits of toys affect caregivers’ purchase decisions. In our study, we examined three questions:
- What types of toys do babies and caregivers play with?
- What do caregivers prefer for electronic versus traditional toys?
- How do advertisements in developing toys affect caregivers’ toy choices?
Find out how and what caregivers think about toys
Sixty-three primary caregivers of infants (0-24 months) across the United States participated in the study. Most caregivers were White (78%), 3% were Black, 5% were Asian, 13% were Latinx, and 1% were of other ethnicity. The highest educational level attained by caregivers ranged from a high school diploma (3%) to a graduate degree (79%).
In our survey, caregivers were asked to report how often their infant played with blocks, dolls or stuffed animals, electronic toys (ie, toys with batteries), electronic books and non-electronic, electronic and non-electronic puzzles, etc. toys.
Next, caregivers viewed eight pictures of infant toys without descriptions. Four of the eight toys are electronic, with features that include lights and sounds, and require batteries. The other four toys are traditional or identified as non-electronic toys (eg, shape sorters, stacking blocks, puzzles). Caregivers were asked to identify four toys they were interested in purchasing.
Next, caregivers answered questions about their purchasing behavior and opinions about toy marketing. Then the same eight toys were shown again (in a different order), this time with the manufacturers’ descriptions. The descriptions included the developmental benefits of the toys (eg, developing fine motor skills, understanding cause and effect, or counting skills), and disclosed whether or not the toys were electronic. Finally, caregivers were again asked to select four toys they were interested in purchasing and answer the same set of questions about purchasing a toy.
Caregivers need to ask themselves if manufacturers’ claims about toys are backed up by research or if they are just putting in buzzwords to sell the product.
What types of toys do caregivers and infants play with?
The youngest infants (0-6 months) used electronic toys most often (88% used them at least once per day), while less than 70% of infants used traditional toys at least once per day day. This shows that technological toys are already part of the daily routine of babies, even at a very young age. Depending on age, between 33% and 46% of older infants (7-24 months) also use electronic toys at least once per day.
What are the preferences of caregivers when choosing between electronic and traditional toys?
Before being exposed to toy descriptions, caregivers were more likely to choose traditional than nontraditional toys for their infants. But after reading the descriptions, there is no difference between their choices of traditional and technological toys. That is, they are equally likely to choose any type of toy when given the descriptions.
This shows that caregivers are likely to be influenced by the presence of descriptions in making their choices and that reading these descriptions is likely to bias them toward choosing more electronic toys, if they are not given descriptions to read. .
How do advertisements in developing toys affect caregivers’ toy choices?
Caregivers more often agreed with the following statements after reading the toy descriptions than before they read them: “The toy descriptions are accurate representations of the toys,” “My decision to purchase a toy is affected by the developmental benefits of toys,” and “Toys positively affect the cognitive development of infants.” This suggests that descriptions influence how caregivers view the ability of toys to affect child development.
Recommendations for caregivers when buying toys
Findings from our study suggest that being critical consumers of manufacturers’ toy descriptions can be beneficial for caregivers. More research is needed to determine how these findings generalize to other contexts, such as different types of toys, toys for different age groups and for other groups. demographics, and actual toy purchasing decisions. Understanding the power of toy descriptions for technology toys, in particular, is important because the market for these types of toys is rapidly expanding worldwide and expected to grow another 16% between 2019 and 2025.
Caregivers need to ask themselves if manufacturers’ claims about toys are backed up by research or if they are just putting in buzzwords to sell the product. It can be difficult to determine whether claims are credible, so caregivers should consider whether the toy helps support back-and-forth interaction and conversation between caregiver and child or between children. .
Toys can be especially useful if they have the potential to stimulate social interactions, imagination, and creativity, or if they promote learning about concepts such as math, spatial skills, or new words. in vocabulary. Caregivers may also consider whether there are additional features in a toy that support these high-quality interactions rather than superficial distractions.
Finally, it is important to remember that supporting the healthy development of children does not require buying toys! Caregivers can engage in the types of back-and-forth interactions that support learning and social interaction through other types of play, such as playing with everyday objects such as breads. or boxes, as well as in everyday conversations.