New ASHA Survey of U.S. Parents: Significant Percentages Report That Very Young Children Are Using Technology

Usage Is Occurring When Human Interaction Is Key To Developing Strong Communication Skills

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association commissioned a survey of U.S. parents on their children’s use and attitudes towards technology. Concerns were raised about time spent on devices might take away from their children’s time spent in face-to-face interactions, which is how children best learn language up to age 3, and certainly continue to build language and social skills thereafter. Here is ASHA’s press release to coincide with May, Better Speech and Hearing Month (my comments are in italics):

“(May 8, 2015 – Rockville, MD) A new survey of U.S. parents commissioned by American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) finds significant percentages reporting technology use by very young children and more than half of the parents surveyed have concerns about the potential negative impact of technology use on the ability of the young to communicate.

Conducted this past March, the survey polled 1,000 parents of children ages 0–8. Its release today occurs during Better Hearing & Speech Month, a national observance that raises awareness of speech, language, and hearing disorders—and spotlights the importance of communication health.

Sixty-eight percent of surveyed parents’ 2-year-olds use tablets. Meanwhile, 59% use smartphones, and 44% use video game consoles.

Such results raise questions about the course of the development of the very young’s capacities to communicate, according to Judith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP, 2015 ASHA president.

“The most rapid period of brain development takes place before age 3,” Dr. Page notes. “The primary way young children learn is through verbal communication that technology simply cannot duplicate.”

She adds: “Indeed, despite advances in technology, it remains critical that children have sufficient opportunities to develop their vocabulary and communication skills by listening, talking, reading, and interacting with their parents and others, for which there is no substitute.”

Survey respondents say technology holds positive promise. However, majorities express concern about how its misuse can harm communication health.

–55% have some degree of concern that misuse of technology may be harming their children’s hearing; with respect to speech and language skills, the figure is 52%.

 Okay, so more than half are concerned so what should we do?

–52% say they are concerned that technology negatively impacts the quality of their conversations with their children; 54 % say they are concerned that they have fewer conversations with their children than they would like because of technology.

–Parents recognize the potential hazard of personal audio devices to their children’s hearing; 72% agree that loud noise from technology may lead to hearing loss in their children.

Although it is encouraging that a vast majority of surveyed parents report putting limits on their children’s technology use, the efficacy of those steps is questionable given other survey results.

For example, 24% of 2-year olds use technology at the dinner table—a prime time for the kind of interaction that fosters strong communication development. By age 8, that percentage nearly doubles (45%).”

This is disturbing to me. We all know the value of gathering the family (and their attention) at the dinner table, even if for a few minutes to talk about our day and listen to what kids are dealing with. Maybe families should use the method some people are using when they go out to eat where they “Stack Up” their cell phones and the first one to grab their phone and use it has to pay for the meal! Obviously there would have to be another more appropriate consequence for kids but I like the idea behind it. We don’t have time for it all and one clearly replaces the other–undivided attention to live conversation or interacting with your device.

 Also, by age 6, 44% of kids would rather play a game on a technology device than read a book or be read to. By age 8, a majority would prefer that technology is present when spending time with a family member or friend.

Clearly from the survey, parents are concerned about time spent in personal conversation competing with interacting with a device so maybe more emphasis should be placed on setting limits on the latter so real life chat gets a better chance. I know how hard it is to implement these boundaries, especially if you have a child who is exceedingly interested in technology, but who said parenting is easy??

In addition, more than half of parents surveyed say they use technology to keep kids ages 0–3 entertained; nearly 50% of parents of children age 8 report they often rely on technology to prevent behavior problems and tantrums.

ASHA President Page encourages parents to set and enforce meaningful and healthy limits early and understand that usage rules need to be adapted as children get older and acquire new interests in technology.

Noting that the majority of polled parents report that their kids use technology devices on car trips, Page says the coming summer season presents unique opportunities to engage kids.

“If a long vacation drive is in store, parents may want to use the time to converse with their children. Such opportunities seem to be getting harder to come by in this busy world. It is important to take advantage of every chance to build strong communication skills.”

I agree. You have your kids captive in the car and what an opportunity to enjoy some conversation. If you want to gather up some ideas before a trip, check out these Car Ride Activities for Speech and Language, which are fun ways to get kids talking.”

Parents can learn more at http://IdentifytheSigns.

About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 182,000 audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists identify, assess, and treat speech and language problems, including swallowing disorders.