Research findings suggest that the quality of conversations we have with our children make a strong case for putting down our cell phones.

To learn more about children’s language development, researchers attached small digital recorders to a group of children as a way to create a history of the language each child heard and produced. By analyzing the recordings, the researchers could separately identify and log the two-sided exchanges between the children and the adults in their lives.

The children who were involved in more give-and-take conversations with an adult, compared to their just hearing adults talk, scored higher in all stages of language proficiency. Children made the greatest linguistic strides when adults talked with them rather than to them or around them.

Past research has shown that the number of words children are exposed to early in life is a significant predictor of language mastery. Connecting this fact to children’s futures, strong language skills predict eventual academic success. Now with the results of this new study, evidence shows that the quality of exposure to language—not just quantity—also matters.

We can help our children develop the language skills they need to meet their greatest potential by as often as possible talking with them rather than just letting them hear us.