person using smartphone

Modern Secondhand Smoke : The Principle of Unintended Consequences Applied

One thing that we as a society have become guilty of is becoming overly connected to our phones. The ramifications of this societal fault are many but one in particular that I would like to focus on is the impact it has had on our toddlers. The average adult picks up their phone 58 times per day for a total of 3 ½ hours spent looking at a screen. Multiply those numbers times 7 (for all the days of the week) and that calculates to picking up your device 406 times and viewing it for 24 ½ hrs. May I hasten to ask what other thing you do that gets 406 repetitions per week? Is it possible to at least reallocate 12 hours to your children and/ or grandchildren? And what are you teaching your posterity by looking at your device the amount of times that you do?

Now as a speech-language pathologist I’m not in the business of condemning behavior rather I am tasked to help families address a speech and language deficit that is present within their household. And this is certainly one of them. The CDC earlier this year changed the speech milestones for children between 15-30 months due to the data they collected starting from 2004 to 2019. In my opinion, though the data collected was sound, they neglected to continue to utilize all previous data before this time period. In addition, they did not take into consideration the technological boom that has immersed itself into our culture. The access we have and amount of time spent watching TV, sitting in front of a computer, or looking at a phone are all key variables that are relatively new to humanity and should be taking into account when assessing a child’s development. As a parent I understand how easy it is to put your child in front of a screen especially if it helps them calm down or allows them to sit still while you wash the dishes or fold clothes. However, we have to remember that previous generations did not have this luxury during their time at home. Instead, they spent a lot of time talking to their children and incorporating them while taking care of tasks.

One area that speech-language researchers have been focusing on since the 1960s is the “30-million-word gap.” On average, by age three a child who spent time with a parent at home hears about 30 million more words compared to a child who did not get to spend time with a parent at home. The results from this 30 million word gap were delays with their speech and language that not only effected the child in the short term but also long term. Another study came out noting that before starting kindergarten, a child whose parent reads to them at least five books per day has heard 1.4 million more words than those who were never read to. Now, let’s add the amount of time spent consuming tv and/or glazing over our devices and we are creating an even larger gap with our kids…

The last piece I would like to leave with you is a quote from the 2020 American Speech and Hearing Association President:

“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.”

In our year 2022 this statement has become much more apparent and obvious. May we remember that technology is a wonderful tool that advances each of our lives. However, like any other tool, it can be misused and have the inverse effect in damaging our lives instead of flourishing it. May you use your tools to bring about even greater minds than what we experienced in any other generation.