Newswise — A note to Santa: Although electronic toys are becoming more educational, "regular" toys are still better, according to a professor at Kansas State University.
"While children do need opportunities to explore their environment independently, this exploration time doesn't have to be with flashy noise-making, movable toys," said Linda Crowe, associate professor of communication sciences and disorders. "Traditional building blocks, toy dishes and Mr. Potato Head can allow a child to explore and problem solve without the bells and whistles."
Electronic toys pose several possible dangers for children's development, she said.
"Loud electronics have the potential for hearing loss," Crowe said. "Current reports suggest that direct input of loud music and other sounds through headphones are causing early hearing loss.
"Also, a recent study showed that children who have only nonhuman input, such as television or computers, do not develop language normally," Crowe said. "Young children need the feedback others can provide to affirm that the child's message is correct or understandable, or to offer a correction for incorrect information a child may express."
An additional problem with electronics stems from the constant change in visual stimuli, which can promote short attention, according to Crowe.
"Most electronics provide frequent changes in visual stimuli, such as flashing lights or changing directions in movement. Thus, children are not required to focus on a stable stimulus for any length of time," Crowe said. "The recent surge in the number of children medicated for attention deficit disorder or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder affirm the effect today's electronics have on children's ability to perform in school."
Despite these risks, Kevin Gwinner, professor and head of K-State's department of marketing, said there are several modifications the industry has made to make electronics safer and more positive for children.
"Some manufacturers are trying to respond to the notion that video games contribute to childhood obesity," Gwinner said. "We're starting to see new developments, as more manufacturers combine entertainment with fitness.
"For example, the video game "Dance Dance Revolution" requires physical interactivity. Some school districts have even put the game in schools to promote exercise," Gwinner said.
Electronic game manufacturers also are promoting more mental activity, according to Gwinner.
"Another trend is the push to make games more than just mindless activity," he said. "Math games, trivia and other "brainy" games are gaining popularity."
Educational electronic toys can promote positive adult interaction, Crowe said.
"The educational toys that are being advertised currently for toddlers and preschoolers encourage parents to interact with their child and the toys during toy manipulation," Crowe said. "Toy makers are recognizing the importance of adult social mediation for children to get the maximum benefit from their toys, such as LeapFrog and Baby Einstein."
No matter how developed electronic games become, however, nothing takes the place of traditional physical interaction, Crowe said.
"The most effective ways to promote a child's language acquisition and development include quality adult interaction time, playing with and modeling language during play, reading the same stories over and over on a regular basis and providing a positive, nurturing environment. No special toys or gadgets required," Crowe said.