Electronics Use and Communication Development

Let’s face it, we live in an electronic world.  Almost every home has at least one cell phone, computer, tablet, smart television, or video gaming system. I’m sure many of you remember a time when there wasn’t easy access to electronics, and we spent our days playing and talking to each other.

Not to date myself, but I grew up when the phone was attached to kitchen wall and had a rotary dial. I could call my friends by using only the last four digits of their phone number. I used my first computer in 5th grade, and the programs were on a cassette tape. I will admit that I did enjoy a good game of Oregon Trail; but back then computer time was divided among the class, and we each got about 30 minutes per week. As a young girl, I spent most days running around my neighborhood playing with friends, dreaming up all kinds of wild adventures to go on. Only in the heat of the day would I retreat to my parents air-conditioned bedroom and watch a filmstrip before racing back outside for more fun. My friends and I didn’t sit in front of the television or with our noses buried in a gaming system – we interacted with each other.

True face-to-face interaction seems to be happening less and less these days. Summers in my current neighborhood are quiet. When I am outside with my daughter, I see very few kids outdoors interacting with each other. This makes me sad. We are losing the great art of interaction to an electronic device that gives us nothing in return. I’m not saying that electronics are not useful or even necessary at times. I have them and use them almost daily as a part of my job. My daughter has some electronics time almost daily as well, but it is limited. My home is filled with many other creative and interactive puzzles, games, books, and toys that allow us to engage with each other.

I recently read a study that looked at the quality of parent-child interactions, and the use of electronic devices. The study found that young children who use electronic devices on a regular basis in place of interaction with parents are actually experiencing deficits in social abilities at later ages. Children learn how to interact with others from a very young age. They need direct face-to-face engagement to learn how to develop critical communication skills such as reading and using facial expressions, gestures, and vocal inflection. This human interaction also helps children develop vocabulary and grammatical skills that allow them to be more effective communicators. When everyone in the environment has their face in front of a screen, children are unable to develop the critical social skills they will need for interacting with others later in life.

Our office instituted a “No Electronics” policy for our clients after watching too many parents and kids enter our waiting room, sit down in a chair, and immediately begin talking on the phone, playing a video game, or watching a show. People spend way too much time with their electronics, and we want our office to be a place where they come and enjoy just existing for a while. We have a sign listing some of the alternative choices for those who are unable to think outside of the electronics box at this point. Of course, we heard grumbling at first; but now I see many of our clients enjoying the reading material, playing games, talking, or even just sitting quietly and relaxing while they wait. I think this is one of the best policies we have put in place, and I am hopeful that it has carried over into the home environment at least a little bit.

I want to leave you with a few questions to ask yourself:

When is the last time you sat down and had an actual face-to-face conversation with someone in your family?

When is the last time you played something other than electronics with your child?

When is the last time you did something creative or imaginative that didn’t involve an electronic device?

In our society, the use of electronics is necessary at times; but this should never take the place of good old-fashioned interaction. I dare you to give it a try!

Article written by Erin Roon, MA CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist at Horizons Developmental Resource Center.

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