Researchers talk about a study that suggests mother cell phone use may have a negative effect on the language development of her child. (Q&A)

According to research, children’s speech input and language development may be impacted by phone use. Nevertheless, the majority of earlier research in this field looks at parents and kids in carefully monitored lab settings, so it could not really reflect how a child and their caretakers interact on a regular basis.
The University of Texas at Austin has published new research in the field of child development that is the first to combine maternal cell phone use from cell phone records with objective markers of speech (via audio recorders worn by infants). This study contributes to the documentation of the impact of phone use on speech in real-world encounters with infants.

Researchers discovered that, as expected, there is a 16% overall decline in infants’ speech input during real-world interactions at home when their mothers use cell phones. There were larger impacts of phone use on speech during some hours of the day than during others. This could be due to the fact that parents use their phones differently throughout the day when taking care of their newborns.
Drs. Miriam Mikhelson and Kaya de Barbaro of the University of Texas at Austin were interviewed by the Society for Research in Child Development to talk about their significant discoveries.

Why did you decide to look at how mothers use their phones and how babies learn to speak?
An increasing amount of research is revealing links between parents’ phone use and their kids’ language development. In order to investigate a possible explanation for this relationship, we looked at how phone use may affect the amount of speech that infants hear. However, an infant’s linguistic environment is complicated, and the data that is now available only offers a glimpse of how parental distractions—like smartphones—affect their speaking rates.


Our study’s design aimed to define, over an extended period of time, patterns of parental phone use and infants’ verbal input (for infants aged 1-7 months) during routine interactions in the house. Thus, our findings offer increased ecological validity for the investigation of phone usage behavior and language acquisition.

Would you kindly provide us a quick rundown of the study?
We examined the real-time alterations in newborns’ voice input when their mothers were using their phones. Using phone logs and audio recordings, the data were gathered from mother-infant pairs living at the house. The verbal input of newborns was then examined over a one-minute period, and we discovered a 16% drop when using a phone. We observed that significantly larger (26%) declines in voice input were linked to shorter phone calls (1-2 minutes).


During particular periods of the day, we also observed a larger correlation between the use of phones and the speech input of newborns. The variation in the relationship between phone use and speech input from newborns illustrates the variety of ways parents use their phones on a daily basis.

What recommendations do you have for newlywed parents based on your research?
The precise causes of the correlation between parental phone use and less speech input as well as the long-term impacts on language acquisition are still unknown. Our findings demonstrate that there is no consistent or uniform “negative” effect of phone use on children’s speech input. Therefore, it is improbable and unrealistic that phone use during childcare should be completely banned.


We advise newlyweds to be aware of the potential negative effects that cell phones may have on their capacity to pay attention to their child’s requirements. Consistent and attentive care is vital for infants, but this can be harder to provide given how enticing and demanding smartphones can be. But because of their jobs or other commitments, some parents might not have the luxury of being able to switch off or put away their phones.


We advise parents to just do their best to tend to their children, and to be honest with themselves about the extent to which cellphones impede their capacity to do so, for those who are already concerned about the quality of their care-giving, as many new parents are. Even with the best of intentions, acknowledging how quickly we may get engrossed in our phones is a crucial first step.

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