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Researchers to explore how daily exposure to technology can influences how babies and toddlers talk

Digital technology, including smartphones, iPads, tablets, digital TV, is now part of most very young children’s everyday lives in their family homes.

Toddlers and Tech
Photo Credit: Alexander Dummer Via Unsplash

A new research project, ‘Toddlers, Tech and Talk’, led by researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with Queen’s University, Lancaster University, Swansea University, and the University of Strathclyde, is the most in-depth study to date across the UK into how the daily exposure of babies and very young children to digital technologies influences how they speak and interact with others.

Data shows that the digital and online activity of children aged 3-15 grows each year, but comparatively little is known about how the very youngest use technology.

Professor Karen Winter from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s said: “There has been a huge expansion in young children’s access to digital technology in their homes. With this there has also been a growing interest in how children and carers engage with the technology, and its impacts both negative and positive. This project provides a unique opportunity to explore these issues within the intimate space of private family homes to generate new understanding and insights.”

Dr Katrina McLaughlin from the School of Psychology at Queen’s commented: “The research addresses an important gap in the literature by focusing on the 0-3 year old age group and provides an exciting opportunity to explore both parent/child digital access, usage and attitudes across a range of socioeconomic and demographic factors.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased some families’ reliance on the internet to manage everyday life, keep in-touch with loved ones and educate and entertain their young children and yet many parents and carers are unaware of how digital technologies shapes and influences their interaction.

There is also a broader concern about differential access to digital technology based on social economic circumstances and how social divides across and within the UK’s four nations shape children’s digital experiences, and the project will reflect the country’s cultural and linguistic diversity.

To explore how families and young children engage in digital technology, what its influence is on linguistic skills and interaction, and how overall engagement with digital technology is influenced by broader social structural factors, the research project will involve: a survey of more than 1000 parents and carers; interviews with parents, education and care professionals; and case studies in the homes of 40 families in diverse social and linguistic communities from across the UK.

Findings from the project will enable families and policymakers to better understand how children aged 0-3 develop early talk and literacy as they use digital media, and how families can support their learning and wellbeing.

Professor Rosie Flewitt, research lead and Professor of Early Childhood Communication at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “Most children are born into homes where digital technologies are embedded in the everyday fabric of family life, influencing their early language and literacy encounters. There’s a pressing need to find out much more about how very young children interact with, around and through digital media.

"Children’s activity online and use of digital technologies tend to provoke public and media debates that focus on potential harm to children’s safety and security rather than on opportunities for learning.”

The two-year study has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

For more information on the research and the research team, please visit:


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