Tablets and Talking

‘Screen time’ is apparently removing the very environment needed for children to develop their speech suggests a report in the Irish Times.

The article warns that basic speech and social skills of thousands of children of all ages are being hampered by increasing use of gadgets.

One expert says he is even receiving queries from the worried parents of teenagers who rely so much on social media for communication that they can barely utter a word in normal day-to-day conversation.

Psychologist Ronan Maher, programme director with CLUAS which helps children and adults with speech and language difficulties, says ‘screen time’ is removing the very environment needed for children to develop their speech.

“It’s one of the first questions I would ask of a parent of a child experiencing speech difficulties,” he said, “how much time is their child spending on a screen of one sort or another.

“Of course it’s not always the issue. It used to be just the television which took away conversation time among families but now it’s gadgets as well.The family environment is still the perfect environment for developing speech among children but it has changed unfortunately and it is something which needs to be addressed.”

Speech and language therapist Dr Caroline Winstanley warned gadgets were affecting development skills of children in all areas.“I see a lot of children and I do ask parents to limit time on gadgets,” she said.“I work closely with occupational therapists and what we are seeing more and more are children who spend so much time swiping on an iPad that they can’t even hold a pencil. ”Gadget use can be beneficial but it cannot be unrestricted.”

Una McCool, who has been teaching three and four year olds for the past 21 years, said she has seen a decline in the speech and interaction skills of children. “It is very sad to watch,” she said, “Children struggle to even speak to each other. Social skills have gone.” Her school – the Model Primary in Derry, Northern Ireland – has brought in a speech therapist to help.

“I know there was an argument a generation ago about children watching too much television, but the wide availability of gadgets now is much more intrusive into normal life,” said Ms McCool.

“You will see children on gadgets now in supermarkets while their parents shop. the children should be helping with the shop, learning about food and colours, but that’s rare now.

“Computers are a brilliant educational tool but it seems they have taken over completely a generation of children who don’t speak to each other, don’t speak to their family members and who never go outside on a bicycle or to kick a football. It’s scary.”

Health authorities in Taiwan have become so frightened of the overuse of gadgets that the Government there has  week banned their use by all children under the age of two.

The new criminal law comes with a hefty fine for parents who break the ban.

Chatta’s Chris Williams recognises some of the thinking behind this but struggles to understand the authoritarian approach and says  “I certainly don’t advocate fines, bans and strict rules but I do discourage families from allowing the youngest children to be left alone on iPads and tablets.”

Chris has developed pro-active resources to support families  “We have resources for parents and carers which suggest a range of enjoyable, engaging and free activity ideas which promote play, language and interaction. Our activities promote social development, talk and interaction.“

David Andrews, co-founder of chatta, and multi-award winning teacher in the use of technology in education recognises that technology can have a role to play in early language learning. “Children need to play, explore and interact,” says David, “with chatta our trained practitioners use technology to capture memorable experiences which link images and speech.”

“Technology is a tool,” continues David “and with chatta we have one simple use for it that supports and permeates all areas of learning. We want our children to be active, exploring and discovering and having plenty to talk about.”