Emily Hembacher, Veronica Cristiano, and Michael C. Frank Stanford University

Parenting advice is increasingly delivered through apps and video sites, and often takes the form of digitally-scaffolded parent-child interactions. Although these activities are designed to promote learning and cognitive development, it is unclear how they might affect the overall quality of parent-child interactions. Quality of interactions can be measured by both the social engagement of parents (joint attention; JA) and the quality of language (e.g., vocabulary diversity). How do digitally-scaffolded interactions affect the social and linguistic characteristics of parents’ speech to their children?

Parents of 6- to 24-month-olds ( n = 60) interacted with their infants by playing with a set of toys for 3 minutes. Half first watched one of six possible age-matched videos from a parenting app (Kinedu, Inc) describing activities meant to promote cognitive development, for example, sorting toys according to size. The remaining parents were simply told to play with the toys with their infants as they would at home.

The sessions were recorded, transcribed, and coded for JA. We examined number of words spoken (tokens) and lexical diversity (ratio of word types to tokens). Intriguingly, video condition parents produced more tokens ( β = 55.58, p = .03), but had lower lexical diversity ( β = -.12, p < .001). In contrast, video condition parents made more bids for JA ( β = 3.51, p < .01), although the number and duration of JA episodes did not differ between groups (p s = .62-.97). Following digitally-scaffolded activities may cause parents to engage with and speak more to children overall, but speak more repetitively.

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