Thirty Million Words, part 3 of 3 |

Thirty Million Words, part 3 of 3

For the past two columns I have showcased a book titled “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain-Tune In, Talk More, and Take Turns,” by Dana Suskind.

She encourages parents and caregivers to practice the Three Ts: tune in, talk more and take turns when interacting with young children. She also introduces the possibility of a Fourth T: Turn it Off. She is speaking of the persuasive role of technology in our 21st century lives.

Our goal as parents is a stable child who is able to meet life’s challenges constructively and intelligently. Suskind argues that interacting consistently and positively when the child is very young goes a long way toward accomplishing that.

Using the supermarket as an example, she describes how it’s a common sight now to see a young child transfixed by a digital device, usually the parent’s iPhone, as the parent loads groceries into the cart.

Suskind suggests that a parent could instead Tune In to what the child is focused on, without a digital device in hand, whether it be the shopping cart or the apples. Talk More by giving him or her information about that interest and those that follow and Take Turns, by planning how to cut the vegetables for the stew or which cereal to buy.

She posits that listening to a child is just as important as talking, perhaps even more so, predicting that in fifteen years, a parent who listened as well as talked when the child was young will be very happy with the results. And life will be easier.

Suskind is not alone in believing that excessive use of technology is bad for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or technology screen time for children under the age of two. For children ages two and up, they recommend limiting screen time to 1-2 hours per day, with content restrictions.

Digital distraction goes both ways, of course. A recent article in The Atlantic by Deborah Fallows, titled “Papa Don’t Text: The Perils of Distracted Parenting,” cited much of the same research at Thirty Million Words. Fallows describes a recent stroll through the park with her baby grandson.

It was a stroll she took regularly with the baby’s father thirty years ago. But something vital had changed. Back then adults pushing babies in strollers talked with those babies about whatever came across their path. Now most adults engage in one-sided conversations on their cellphones, or text in complete silence.

Fallows points out the irony of how hyper-focused this generation is on the science of child-rearing, and yet something as simple and pleasurable as conversing with children is overlooked

She concludes by quoting researcher Dimitri Christakis, “You can only do one thing at a time: talk to the baby or talk on the phone.” Choose wisely, or at least be mindful of digital distractions and be present to the tangible world right in front of you.

Teri Andrews Rinne is the children’s services librarian at the Truckee Library, 10031 Levon Ave. Call 530-582-7846 or visit

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