May is Better Hearing and Speech Month — a good time to look at how children learn speech and language. Frequent conversations with children in their early years are the best way to set them on the road to language learning and academic success. Studies have demonstrated a link between the number of words a child hears and later academic achievement.
While they should spend quality time listening, talking, playing and reading with their parents, our children are instead spending time with technology. According to a poll recently released by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the average child age 8 and under uses more than three different personal tech devices, including tablets, video game consoles, and smart phones. Even children as young as 2 are now "connected" via technology.
Since technology cannot substitute for face-to-face communication, children who spend their time preoccupied with solitary devices lose out on language learning opportunities. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has made several suggestions on how to manage your child's technology use to keep communication at the forefront:
Create tech-free times. Find opportunities for everyone to disconnect and talk.
Don't over-rely on technology for entertainment. Everyday activities like errands provide great opportunities for conversation and learning for young children. Resist the urge to rely on devices.
Don't overestimate the value of educational apps. Children learn best simply through talking, conversing, and reading. Technology cannot replace these activities.
Make tech use a group activity. Do things together with the device and talk about what you're doing.
Consider whether young kids really need their own devices, which lead to more time spent alone with technology.
Set and enforce daily limits on "tech time."
Teach safe listening, especially when using ear buds or headphones. Teach kids to keep the volume down (a good guide is half volume) and take listening breaks to avoid noise-induced hearing loss.
Model good tech habits. Practice what you preach when it comes to tech time and safe-listening habits.
Learn to recognize the signs of communication disorders. This is important for all parents, regardless of their children's technology use. Early treatment can prevent or reverse many communication disorders. Parents should not wait to see if a child "outgrows" a suspected speech or hearing problem. If you have concerns, seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist or audiologist. Learn more at IdentifytheSigns.org.