ASHA is no stranger to promoting healthy use of personal technology devices. A decade ago, ASHA polled the nation about usage habits as iPods and other MP3 players skyrocketed in popularity, particularly among young people. Shown to be unhealthy, those habits spurred ASHA to launch its Listen to Your Buds campaign, an initiative targeted at schools to educate children about the importance of safe listening. Recently, the World Health Organization cited the campaign as an effective educational tool as it warned that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss from unsafe listening practices.
In 2006, however, few people foresaw how extensive the use of personal tech devices would become. Now part of the fabric of life, it preoccupies people of all ages. Meanwhile, ASHA members’ concern has grown. Surveyed about the effect of popular personal technology on children’s communication—excluding augmentative and alternative communication devices—nearly 70 percent indicated a communication “time bomb” might result in diminished speech, language and hearing abilities without the widespread adoption of safer tech use.
Released this month, ASHA’s newest poll of parents and teens clearly shows just cause for concern. Both groups report spending more than five hours daily using personal tech devices. The survey also paints a picture of home and family life bereft of tech-free zones or experience. Conversation between parents and children—so critical to speech and language development—appears to be suffering, while teens spend hours daily with devices plugged into their ears.
Results like these should concern anyone who cares about communication health. Still, the poll offers hopeful findings as well. Informed about some potential risks, large majorities of parents expressed interest in adopting stronger use parameters at home, making a more concerted effort to engage their kids in conversation and model safe listening.
And survey results showed teens couldn’t care less, right? Wrong. We surveyed hundreds, and most felt that potential risks presented enough reasons to turn down the volume, cut back on usage and adopt other healthier alternatives.
To materialize as action, though, even the best intentions often need to be encouraged. So ASHA mounted a dedicated effort to educate the public about safe use of personal technology. Various tactics help disseminate the message—interviews with media outlets across the country, articles in national publications and a month-long social media campaign, to name a few.
And every ASHA member can help spread the word. We provide easy-to-use resources for outreach. They include a “Digital Diet,” a handy guide for how to dial back tech usage. These resources will remain relevant long after Better Hearing and Speech Month ends, and I encourage ASHA members to continue to use them.
Despite today’s usage craziness, the public hasn’t yet tuned out safer ways of enjoying technology. Far from it. Seventy-five percent of the parents ASHA polled want safe use of tech devices taught in school. Ninety-three percent of surveyed teens whose parents create usage rules consider those rules fair.
News flash: The public wants to get back on the road to communication health. Who better to help them get there than ASHA members?
Please send information about what you are doing to educate the public about safe use of personal technology devices to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jaynee A. Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A, is the director of pediatric audiology at the C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital and a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery in the University of Michigan Health System. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 8, Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance; 9, Hearing and Hearing Disorders in Childhood; and 11, Administration and Supervision. email@example.com