With all the new technological devices available to us for communication purposes, conveying a message to someone has taken on a completely new meaning. Now communication consists of a lot less face-to-face interaction, no eye contact is required when using technological devices and very little speech is used as it can easily be replaced by text. Instead of growing up playing outdoors or with board games and toys, children spend most of their time playing on tablets or smart phones.
A poll conducted last year by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), found that 68% of the sampled parents with two-year-olds use tablets and 59% use smart phones. What was most alarming was the 52% of parents who reported being concerned about technology negatively impacting the quality of their conversations with their children and the quantity of conversations they engage in.
While it may be easy to occupy a child with electronic devices to take a break on a busy day, verbal communication through parent-to-child interactions is crucial for the child’s learning and language development. Parents need to be more aware of their children’s communication health. For children with communication delays many parents turn to technology such as apps and gadgets marketed at encouraging children’s language skills, completely missing the point that it is the interaction which is crucial.
Dr. Bedore and Dr. Pruitt-Lord both emphasize the importance of parent-child interactions when it comes to fostering child language development. “The human interaction involved in play is special because children respond well to the timeliness of adult responses when they are talking to people (as opposed to watching videos for example),” says Dr. Bedore. Even if your child does not always respond back to you, it is important to keep talking to them and make the conversation fun and interesting for them. “Engage in conversations as though your child is responding. Talk about what you’re doing and what your child is doing, wait during the conversational turn, and respond. Read books, talk about the pictures, sing songs, play games,” says Dr.Pruitt-Lord.
We can model a range of different complex language behaviours, however other children also have a role to play. Interacting with peers can help a child use language to negotiate, and introduce them to new social and general language content.
When it comes to fostering early language development, traditional methods such as reading a book and playing with traditional toys prove to be much more effective than modern methods. Talk to your child and give them ample opportunities to talk to you. Be patient and model good communication by slowing down your speech and using gestures. Most importantly, put down your phone and listen to your child. Even if it may seem silly to respond back to their babbling, know that to a young child getting your attention is their most coveted reward.
Simple parent-child interactions and play through traditional methods cannot be substituted with technological devices. These human interactions create language-rich environments, which are crucial for verbal and social learning.