Study: Most very young children using technology, communication skills could suffer

Most very young children are using mobile devices, according to a survey of parents. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/Zurijeta)

WASHINGTON — A new survey of parents in the U.S. shows 68 percent of 2-year-olds use tablets, 59 percent use smartphones and 44 percent use video game consoles, sparking fears that technology usage hampers the ability of the young to communicate.

The survey commissioned by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, concludes the usage is occurring when human interaction is key to developing strong communication skills.

“The most rapid period of brain development takes place before age 3,” says Judith Page, president of ASHA. “The primary way young children learn is through verbal communication that technology simply cannot duplicate.”

Page says children need to have opportunities to develop their vocabulary and communication skills “by listening, talking, reading, and interacting with their parents and others, for which there is no substitute.”

According to the survey, many parents are concerned technology misuse can harm their child’s ability to to communicate.

  •  55 percent have some degree of concern that misuse of technology may be harming their children’s hearing; with respect to speech and language skills, the figure is 52 percent.
  • 52 percent say they are concerned that technology negatively impacts the quality of their conversations with their children; 54 percent say they are concerned that they have fewer conversations with their children than they would like because of technology.
  • Parents recognize the potential hazard of personal audio devices to their children’s hearing; 72 percent agree that loud noise from technology may lead to hearing loss in their children.

Despite their worries, the survey shows parents aren’t putting limits on technology use.

  • For example, 24 percent of 2-year olds use technology at the dinner table — a prime time for the kind of interaction that fosters strong communication development. By age 8, that percentage nearly doubles (45 percent).
  • Also, by age 6, 44 percent of kids would rather play a game on a technology device than read a book or be read to. By age 8, a majority would prefer that technology is present when spending time with a family member or friend.
  • In addition, more than half of parents surveyed say they use technology to keep kids ages 0—3 entertained; nearly 50 percent of parents of children age 8 report they often rely on technology to prevent behavior problems and tantrums.

The survey release coincides with Better Hearing & Speech Month.

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