As we battle to figure out how all this uptake of technology and devices is going to affect the state of society, and more importantly, the development of our precious offspring, the latest studies look to the effects all this is having on the speech and language skills of todays children. Some Principals are alluding to a decrease in the skills of those arriving for the first day of school, whilst speech pathologists are noting an increase in their own uptake of referrals.
Is it the fault of the technology, robbing our kids of the need to express with language, to listen and converse? Is it bad parenting blamed on technology? Are parents spending less time conversing, playing and interacting with their children in their hurried action packed gotta fit everything in lives? Or are the very limited studies done thus far failing to acknowledge the other societal factors that may be to blame? Does the increase access to speech pathologists and the research on the benefits of early intervention play a part in the increase number of kids presenting with speech issues. Are preschools and kinders having to be more accountable in assessing language skills leading to greater comparison and referrals? Or is it not even in fact an issue? I know for example my 5th son has had by far the greatest exposure to gadgetry and technology than his brothers before him, yet I would have to say his language skills are probably the most developed than any of his siblings at the same age. Maybe this is all the extra kids around to chat? Maybe it is genetics? Maybe it is even the interaction he has with devices, being read stories, being asked questions. Spending a few hours on ‘kinder duty’ and hanging out near the ‘home corner’ or out near sports equipment and language skills, expression and imagination appear to be alive and well.
If these concerns are true however, then certainly we need to start thinking about how we can use the technology to compliment their skills and learning , rather than simply pass the buck, blame the perilous technology and keep forking out money for specialists and intervention.
In days gone by parents were warned about the ‘dumbing down’ element of sitting kids in front of the TV. Yes at least the TV was in a fixed position so you couldn’t rely on it all the time, but it also doesn’t have the interactive elements of the technology today.
Like everything, balance is the key. Heres a few more things I think we can do to ensure our kids are getting all the good stuff and minimising the negative impacts.
- Don’t use the technology as a pacifier (all the time). I added all the time there because we all know that there is nothing like the peace that can come from handing over a phone to a tired and grumpy 3 year old who is hell bent on preventing you that chat with a friend. But. It mustn’t be your only source of distraction.
- Play with the technology with your kids. Just as it mustn’t be the only source of distraction, distraction and boredom must not be the only times you let them play. Playing a game with your child enhances the interactive element. Read a book together, ask questions about what they think will happen, play games, sing songs, make up stories. There are so many fun and educational apps out there that focus on both literacy and numeracy skills as well as imagination and creativity that there really is an abundance of learning and even language skills that can occur.
- Have family rules around the use of technology. ie. no devices at dinnertime, not before bed (we also know the blue light from the screens can interrupt the creation of melatonin which is the hormone that helps us sleep), time limits to encourage self regulation and better balance with other pursuits etc
- Go for walks and outings with no technology. Take in the surroundings around you, look at what you see, feel, smell and talk about it .
- Be a good technology role model. Put it away when visitors or guest are around. Keep it away from tables when out to dinner. Have your own etiquette rules so that your kids see you in control of when and where you use technology and your phone so that relationships and face to face interactions and conversation are not compromised.
We will continue to watch with anticipation at all the effects technology is having on our children’s development. We know there will continue to be changes both positive and negative. We know some of these changes are neither positive or negative, just different. Our brains for example, are beginning to be rewired differently to cater for the different ways we work and play. As the technology doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon it makes sense for us to do what we can to foresee the negative impacts and take steps to minimise, accept the changes that are occuring to our way of life, and embrace the positive elements of the technology that does have the ability to enrich our lives.