In a new study, electronic toys for infants that produce lights, words and songs were found to be associated with decreased quantity and quality of language compared to playing with books or traditional toys.
The reality for many families of young children is that opportunities for direct parent-child play time is limited because of financial, work, and other familial factors.
Optimising the quality of limited parent-child play time is important.
Researchers including Anna V Sosa, of Northern Arizona University in US conducted a controlled experiment involving 26 parent-infant pairs with children who were 10 to 16 months old.
Researchers did not directly observe parent-infant play time because it was conducted in participants' homes. Audio recording equipment was used to pick up sound.
Participants were given three sets of toys - electronic toys (a baby laptop, a talking farm and a baby cell phone); traditional toys (chunky wooden puzzle, shape-sorter and rubber blocks with pictures); and five board books with farm animal, shape or colour themes.
While playing with electronic toys there were fewer adult words used, fewer conversational turns with verbal back-and-forth, fewer parental responses and less production of content-specific words than when playing with traditional toys or books.
Children also vocalised less while playing with electronic toys than with books, according to the results. Results also indicate that parents produced fewer words during play with traditional toys than while playing with books with infants.
Parents also used less content-specific words when playing with traditional toys with their infants than when playing with books.
The results showed the largest and most consistent differences between electronic toys and books, followed by electronic toys and traditional toys, researchers said.
"These results provide a basis for discouraging the purchase of electronic toys that are promoted as educational and are often quite expensive," the researchers said.
"These results add to the large body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of book reading with very young children," they said.
"They also expand on this by demonstrating that play with traditional toys may result in communicative interactions that are as rich as those that occur during book reading," they said.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.