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Advice for managing family tech use, prioritizing communication during May Awareness Month

By Christian Huntley-Wilson

With new data showing that a majority of speech-language pathologists say children’s preoccupation with today’s personal technology is qualitatively different from past generations’ distractions of choice, such as television—with greater potential for harm. Cincinnati speech-language pathologist Christian Wilson urges parents to implement some basic tech rules in their households to make time for verbal communication. This advice is especially timelygiven that May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.

Among the top concerns for surveyed speech-language pathologists is that excessive technology use by children is replacing conversation and human interaction. The most basic of activities, such conversation and interaction is essential to children’s speech and language development as well as future academic and social success. Unfortunately, the availability and convenience of tablets and other kid-friendly devices may be supplanting time for talking, reading, and interactive play. This is where the concerns to communication development come into play.

“A trip to the supermarket, downtime in a doctor’s waiting room, or a ride in the car are ideal times to point out new objects, ask your child questions, and generally converse—all of which contribute to children’s speech and language development,” said Wilson. “It’s important that parents stay mindful of these learning opportunities, and not allow tech time to encroach on such daily opportunities—tempting as it may be to keep a child occupied. Even if a child is playing an ‘educational’ game on a device, nothing replaces what is learned through person-to-person communication.”

Maintaining a realistic approach, a vast majority of speech-language pathologists (73%) say the solution to children’s tech overuse is to encourage parents to set reasonable parameters and model safe technology usage at home. A very small number (2%) advocate for tightly restricting children’stechnology usage.

“We know that technology is here to stay, but consider when you can carve out some dedicated tech free time each day,” Wilson added.

In addition to implementing basic tech measures, Wilson asks parents, especially those of young children, to use May as a time to assess their children’s communication development and familiarize themselves with the signs of speech/language disorders. These are among the most common conditions young children experience, and they are highly treatable. However, it is important that parents not delay should they have concerns.

“Some parents may not take action about a speech delay until a child is three or older, even though they may have had concerns for a year or longer at that point,” Wilson said. “Any parents with a concern should seek an assessment from a speech-language pathologist right away for the best possible outcome.”

For more information about communication milestones, visit http://identifythesigns.org.

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