A recent New York Times article by Tina Rosenberg entitled “The Power of Talking to Your Baby” summarizes new research into the educational gap between children from poor families and those raised in wealthier ones. It begins with the sad reality that before a child has his first birthday, he will most likely have fallen behind his middle-class counterpart in the ability to talk, learn, and understand. As time goes on, the chasm only widens. Look at what Rosenberg says next:
What is it about poverty that limits a child’s ability to learn? Researchers have answered the question in different ways: Is it exposure to lead? Character issues like a lack of self-control or failure to think of future consequences? The effects of high levels of stress hormones? The lack of a culture of reading? A poor child is likely to hear millions fewer words at home than a child from a professional family. And the disparity matters.
The previous stated variables probably contribute to the learning gap as well; but, it appears that a child’s exposure to language spoken before the age of 3 has even more of a profound impact on their ability to learn. Simply stated, the more you talk to your child–especially early on–the better! Rosenberg goes on to describe the results of research into words spoken in various types of homes:
“The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.”
Now if you have a young child in your home, and you need some motivation to put away your smartphone and turn off the television, this may just do it for you. What a truly simple, common-sense solution to raising educated children: Just talk to them more! Now. it is very curious to me why, generally speaking, poor families don’t talk as much as wealthier ones. I would suspect that in homes across the socioeconomic spectrum the amount of time spent talking has been steadily declining. It stands to reason with all the electronic media distractions, as well as our hectic modern lifestyles, that we would talk less and less to our children (and each other). So if we reverse this trend and start talking more to our babies and toddlers (rather than having the television talk to them) it seems we would see stronger academic results in the future. Well, long before modern educational research, Moses repeatedly spoke to the Israelites about the power of talking to their children. He wasn’t as concerned with the IQs or academic success of Israel’s children, but rather for their love for God and His commands. So after exhorting the adults to fear God and keep his statutes, Moses said these words that we have recorded for us in Deuteronomy 6:
5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God’s Word makes the clear connection between “teaching” and “talking” to your children. This form of informal education is one of the best ways for your child to learn from infancy who God is and the power of God unto salvation. Parents talking to their children as they sit in their homes or walk along the way (or drive down the road in their SUV) will bring about dramatic effects, by the power of the Spirit. It’s a shame that even many Christian parents are neglecting this very natural and powerful way of contributing to the Christian education of their children. To defer to the church, the Sunday School, the pastor, the Christian school teacher–or worse, to the TV or computer–is not good enough. Talk to your children about anything and everything from the day you lay eyes on them. They need to hear your voice, and more importantly, hear you speak of the amazing grace and power of God–and your love for Him!