Technology Overuse and its Effect on Communication in Kids
Technology has become a significant part of our day to day routine. We wake up, check our phones, ask Alexa to put milk on the grocery list, search recipes on Pinterest, and lose time playing games or binging movies and television. It’s no wonder that we have turned into a society addicted to our phones and tablets.
But it’s not just adults who are joined at the hip to technology. Kids of all ages are spending more time hooked up to tablets and smartphones than they are interacting with others; a habit that’s beginning to hurt them socially and cognitively.
Speech and Social Communication Development
A child’s speech and language development relies on verbal interaction. Singing, reading, talking, and the everyday contact that a parent has with their young child helps to mold their language and social skills. Human interaction is a vital role in early childhood development. Sadly, an overuse of smartphones and tablets has begun replacing the interaction that must occur between a parent and child.
A 2015 study from JAMA Pediatrics showed that when children interacted with toys that made noise, parents talked and interacted less with their children. This leads children to vocalize less. Further information from other related studies show that social communication is picked up through reading facial expressions, how to take turns in conversation, and how tone changes depending on who’s being spoken to. Even the ability to make eye contact during interaction can be affected by too much screen time.
Long-Term Effects of Technology Use
Extensive use of handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones can have a lasting impact as children get older. In addition to affecting their speech and language development, prolonged use or overuse of tablets and smartphones can have an effect on:
- Attention Span
- School Performance
As many as 30% of children between 11 and 17 years old suffer from tinnitus (a feeling of noise or ringing in the ears) caused by ear damage from wearing headphones and technology use at high volumes. Doctors are reporting that even young children suffer from mild hearing loss due to usage of tablets and smartphones at high volumes.
Striking a Balance
Speech-language pathologists and doctors agree; it’s not necessarily the technology itself that is the problem; it’s more about how the technology is used and what it takes away from. If kids are interacting with their parents while using the technology, then there is less concern about technology usage. It’s when tablets and other technology devices replace time spent interacting with parents that it becomes an issue and potential barrier to speech-language development and social communication skills.
It should be noted that using augmentative and alternative communication devices should not be discontinued as children may require them in order to communicate with family, friends, teachers, and therapists.
Setting clear rules and guidelines for technology use allows parents to take back some control from technology overuse. Parents may want to consider rules such as:
- No technology during meal times or at social gatherings.
- Children through age five should have no more than an hour per day of technology time, including watching television according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Engage in active screen time if screen time is unavoidable. Active screen time might consist of making a video call to a friend or loved one, playing a game, or watching a show with a parent or someone who can involve the child in communicating.
- For older children and teens, turn in devices at bedtime or an hour before and use the extra time to reconnect and talk about the day.
Parents should set limits for their own screen time and cultivate other interests in order to walk the walk they’re expecting from their children.
Speech-language pathologists and doctors see the overuse of technology as a preventable problem to language and social communication development as long as parents are mindful of the amount of time children are using technology and not substituting it for other more meaningful interaction.