Concerns about tech usage and the effect it may have on the development of communication habits for young children are taking center stage this month in Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Each May, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association tries to raise awareness about communication disorders and how concerned parents and educators can provide life-altering treatment. This month, the focus is the risks associated with tech overuse and the ways parents can curb them.
A recent poll conducted by the association indicates that current tech habits may produce a “time bomb” that manifests in diminished communication skills and abilities.
Faith Gealey, chairwoman of the Caribbean Speech Hearing Association, is highlighting the risks of personal technology devices.
“At [the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority] we see a large number of children with language delays who also have long and frequent screen time exposure,” Ms. Gealey said in a press release. “Many children who have long exposure to screen time present red flag characteristics of other neurological and social communication disorders, simply because the nature of technology usage does not promote social and communication development.”
She said basic behaviors, such as making eye contact when speaking to someone, are greatly diminished in people who overuse technology.
“Research tells us that children who are engaged in technology have diminished creativity and do not interact with other people when compared to children who are engaged in non-technological activities. Although we don’t have specific statistics available for the Cayman Islands, it is safe to say that the occurrences on island are not much different than what we are seeing from other developed countries.”
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association poll shows that parents and teens in the United States use technology more than five hours each day. Fifty percent of parents check their phones at the dinner table and 67 percent of them use a mobile device during leisure time with their children. Fifty-five percent of teens have reported having no restriction on their usage of mobile technology, which the association regards as a hazard.
“You need only look around the next time you go to a restaurant to see that a family who is sitting together are all looking at their smartphones and tablets, with very little communication exchanges,” said Ms. Gealey. “Technology definitely has its place in our society and there is no question that having a good foundation in technology use will assist our younger generation in the future. However, technology should not be the focus in the first few years of a child’s development. It’s up to parents to establish a digital diet that ensures technology will enhance their children’s communication skills, not impede it.”
Ms. Gealey went on to suggest ways that parents can ensure their children are using technology more productively. She stressed that parents should put timers on tablets or on television time and that all mobile devices should be kept in the parents’ room when not in use by children.
Parents should also unplug from their own devices and be more active in their children’s lives, and they should encourage other activities to keep their children from becoming too sedentary. Reading books to children, she said, is still the best method to ensure good language development in the next generation.