Digital Distraction: 8 Ways to Turn Downtime Into Learning Time

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By Roberta Munoz

Quality family time used to mean lively conversation and group games with all ages playing together. But for many families, digital devices dominate downtime.

The trouble with high-tech activities is they seldom give parents a chance to engage their kids in conversation, which builds language development and social skills. If your child is fiddling with his phone or playing games by himself, there’s little opportunity for learning. The key to turning downtime into learning time is joint attention, which is when two people are focused on the same thing, such as a parent and a child using a tech toy together.

“We know that by two to three months, babies are sensitive to when others are sharing attention with them,” says Tricia Striano, Ph.D, psychology researcher and founder of “They look more at objects in the world when others have attended to those objects. This kind of attention and engagement helps babies learn language.”

To put it simply, your child needs you—no matter how many high-tech distractions there are. Here are some tips on how to make it happen: