In a prominent “USA Today” op-ed—featured in the newspaper’s online Opinion section and reprinted by publications all over the country—ASHA 2020 President Theresa Rodgers addresses adults’ digital usage habits.
Rodgers writes about how parents’ preoccupation with smartphones can negatively affect their children’s speech and language development. Parents’ diverted attention deprives children of essential day-to-day human interaction. This crucial early interaction fuels language development and communication skills.
In the piece, Rodgers writes:
“But anyone raising or caring for children today should know this hard truth: When parents or caregivers spend too much time turning away from their kids and toward technology, the foundation for a child’s communication skills is weakened. In a world with competing priorities and limited time, experts in my field of speech and language development are already seeing the impacts on children who have missed out on hours of essential, real-life face time—and the results are concerning. Many of my colleagues across the nation say they are seeing more children entering kindergarten with limited communication and social skills. Older children, they say, are unable to handle formal social interactions, like ordering from waitstaff at a restaurant.”
Rodgers focuses on parental usage, rather than children’s, as an overlooked but key component of this conversation: “While we know that too much technology harms children’s brains, parents’ digital habits play a role, too. What might seem like innocuous scrolling could be the new secondhand smoke—a personal habit that could endanger their children’s health and development in ways we don’t yet fully understand.”
ASHA advocates for balanced use
ASHA leads the way on advocating for safe, healthy and balanced use of popular technology. Note: this excludes augmentative and alternative communication devices. In 2006, the association focused on hearing health as the iPod took the world by storm. Concern about potential noise-induced hearing loss birthed ASHA’s safe listening campaign: Listen To Your Buds.
But as tablets, smartphones, and other technologies became popular—used by adults, teens, toddlers, and even infants—the association broadened its outreach. ASHA’s current campaign on popular technology—Healthy Communication & Popular Technology Initiative—includes speech and language development in addition to hearing.
The Healthy Communication initiative takes many forms, such as exhibiting at key events like the Consumer Electronics Show and National PTA Convention. ASHA also produces public service announcements, ads, and articles with information and tips for parents, In addition, the association collaborates on the messaging with partner organizations, such as the World Health Organization, Read Aloud, and more.
This work is poised to increase as digital health and wellness of both children and adults continues to be a major societal challenge. ASHA members, as experts in communication, are similarly poised to be leaders on this important topic.
Francine Pierson is an ASHA public relations manager. firstname.lastname@example.org