Keeping Tech Time in Check During the Critical Developmental Years for Children

ASHA_TeddyBear_Facebook_Shared_Image_1200x630.jpgBy: Judith L. Page

Earlier this month, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) released the results of a new national poll of parents of children ages 0-8 on their children’s use of technology. It found significant percentages reporting technology use by very young children. It also found more than half of the parents surveyed have concerns about the potential negative impact of technology use on the ability of the young to communicate. Among the highlights:

  • Among 2-year olds, 68% use tablets, 59% use smartphones, and 44% use video game consoles, according to surveyed parents.
  • 55% of surveyed parents 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%.
  • 52% say they are concerned that technology negatively impacts the quality of their conversations with their children; 54% 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% agree that loud noise from technology may lead to hearing loss in their children.

The fact that so many young children are using this technology at a critical point in their development should give us all pause. Indeed, according to the survey responses, many parents do indicate a degree of concern. There was one positive finding by ASHA—a majority of parents report that they set limits on their children’s use of technology, such as restricting the amount of time spent with screen-based media or identifying settings where devices may/may not be used. Yet the survey also shows that parents’ enforcement of these limits may be inconsistent and/or may wane over time.

The key takeaway for all of us is not that technology is bad, rather that its presence needs to be balanced. This is especially critical for the youngest of children. The most rapid period of brain development occurs before age 3. The primary way that young children learn is through verbal communication—listening, talking, interacting, and reading. It is essential that children are not preoccupied by solitary use of devices during this key developmental window.

Misuse of technology (i.e., listening for too long, at too high volumes) with accompanying headphones or ear buds also puts children at risk for noise-induced hearing loss. A 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the prevalence of hearing loss among U.S. adolescents increased by 31% from the late 1980s/early 1990s to mid-2000s. Moreover, the World Health Organization recently stated that more than 1 billion young people are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss from noisy leisure activities—including misuse of personal audio devices. Through some very basic “safe listening” behaviors—keeping devices at half volume and taking listening breaks—children can protect their hearing for a lifetime.

During May Is Better Hearing & Speech Month, these are messages that ASHA and its members—speech-language pathologists and audiologists—hope to reach parents with, first and foremost. But it is a message that pediatricians, other healthcare professionals, educators, and almost anyone who interacts with children can reinforce. By promoting the value of talking and reading in this technology-centered era, as well as sharing safe listening messages, we can help set our children up for success.

A variety of materials about safe listening, speech and language development, and the early signs of speech/language and hearing disorders can be found at We invite you to utilize these resources—both during May, Better Hearing & Speech Month, and year-round.

ASHA_logo.jpgJudith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP, is the 2015 president of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She is associate professor in the Division of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kentucky.


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