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One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: Toddlers and Touchscreen Nursery Rhymes

December 3, 2021

In a recently released study in Pediatrics, Dr. Tiffany Munzer and colleagues conducted an interesting study to examine child-parent verbal interactions while using popular nursery rhyme apps (10.1542/peds.2021-049964). They sought to understand whether sharing of nursery rhymes via a tablet format, as compared to a print book, would lead to a lower frequency of parents’ dialogic verbalizations (shared dialogue aimed at understanding the meaning of something) and a lower frequency of children’s verbal and nonverbal responses. In this media use study, the authors specifically chose nursery rhyme apps, due to their popularity and because this content naturally elicits turn-taking and interaction.

The study enrolled 72 parent-toddler (ages 24-36 months) dyads, and assigned each to a randomly-ordered sequence of three-minute interventions: (1) an “Enhanced” app that included nursery rhyme music, swiping and (distracting) interactive hot spots that the child could tap (for example to create an unrelated sound effect), (2) an app that included all of this and additionally an automatic play sing-along when swiping between pages (“Enhanced + Auto-narration”), and (3) a soft print book with high resolution screen shots from each app page. What a fun and cool study! Parent-toddler exchanges (in 5 second epochs) were assessed, and this key part of the methods sections was particularly fascinating to read, since measuring interaction is fundamentally challenging. Toddler emotional regulation, home child media use and demographics were also assessed.

What’s your guess? Is joint media engagement, defined as the practice of sharing media experiences together, a positive for parents and their toddlers? Did it lead to interactions that were at least as meaningful as those associated with “old fashioned” print book reading? Hopefully without giving away too much, I think it’s fair to say that shared tablet use was not developmental magic! Take your time reading the results section of this paper so that you can embrace the nuances of the study results.  It’s also interesting to consider that some children, for example those with difficulty regulating emotion, may benefit more than others from co-viewing media, if it includes full parental engagement.  Let us know if this timely study changes your practice! 

Relevant related article:

1. Ewin CA, Ruepert AE, McLean C and Ewin CJ. The impact of joint media engagement on parent–child interactions: A systematic review. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies. 2021: 3: 230-254.

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