Reading and conversation are crucial for language development in children. Technology has also become a near-ubiquitous part of modern life. Unfortunately, a poll from 2018 released by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and Read Aloud 15 MINUTES showed that more than one-third of parents report that popular technology use by their children routinely takes away from daily reading and conversing, activities that foster brain and communication development.
Reading aloud is the single most important activity that parents can do to prepare their children for reading and learning. Recent research discovered that the gap in early brain development between children whose parents read to them and those who do not shows up as early as age 3. Read Aloud 15 MINUTES launched a ten-year National Campaign in 2013 to make reading aloud every day for at least fifteen minutes starting at birth the national caregiving standard. I wholeheartedly stand behind this recommendation!
As a linguist, I cannot stress enough the importance of daily reading and conversation for language development in children. Reading aloud to your child can never start too early, and making reading to your child a daily habit can never start too late! By prioritizing reading aloud and conversation, parents can give their children the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond. I started reading aloud to all my children from birth. I read to my oldest starting during her first weeks of life. I also held my younger children as I continued to read aloud to older siblings. Even now, my fourth sits on my lap and listens as I read aloud to her older sister.
Explains ASHA 2018 President Elise Davis-McFarland, PhD, CCC-SLP: “We know the vast majority of brain development occurs in the first 3 years of life-a foundational time for a child’s speech/language and social development. We also know that this development is fueled by daily opportunities for children to talk, read, sing, and play with parents and others.”
Published on April 10, 2018, the Read Aloud 15 MINUTES/ASHA Popular Technology Survey Report investigated parents between the ages of 18 and 65 who have a child in the household between the ages of 0 and 8. The study sought to understand the effects of technology on conversation, human interaction, and reading. Questions presented in the study were a part of a larger survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,022 households in the United States conducted by YouGov that sought to gauge the current state of American families to read aloud, their understanding of brain development, and the central role reading aloud can play.
Technology is commonplace in American households with young children. Smartphones, TVs, and computers are present in 80% of homes with children between the ages of 0 and 8. Tablets are present in 70% of households and video game systems in 55%. Additionally, 38% of children between the ages of 0 and 2, 39% between the ages of 3 and 5, and 45% between the ages of 6 and 8 use a smartphone while 27% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 and 45% between the ages of 6 and 8 use a gaming system connected to a television.
While we have many devices in our home, I certainly recognize the significance, both positive and negative, of technology in our daily lives. Thus, my family also engages in activities beyond watching television and playing video games. For example, I love sharing my favorite music with my kids, and I am always singing. Sometimes my oldest daughter gets a little annoyed with me because I can make a song of any activity. I especially like to sing popular songs that pop into my head. If someone says, “It’s raining,” I may belt out, “It’s raining men! Hallelujah!” We also talk with each other and read books regularly. These activities not only strengthen our bond but also enhance our cognitive and linguistic abilities. Providing children with daily opportunities to talk, read, and sing, especially during the critical first three years of life, is crucial for laying the foundation for social and language development.
According to the survey, 34% of parents reported that popular tech devices take away reading time for their child. More specifically, 26% of parents of children between the ages of 0 and 2 stated that technology negatively affected reading. The figures increased to 37% for children between the ages of 3 and 5 and 40% for children between the ages of 6 and 8.
I am a huge proponent of public libraries. One of my master’s degrees is in library science, and I am also on the board of our local library board. My kids and I go to the library all the time to check out physical books. Digital books are great too, but I love the feeling of a book in my hands. Whenever I go to check out materials, my card takes forever to load on the library computer because I literally have tens of thousands of records of checked out materials on my account. My kids love picking out their own materials to read, and I am happy to bring home dozens of books at a time! Reading is just so important.
The poll found that 43% of the parents said popular technology devices are a barrier/distraction to conversation and interaction between themselves and their children. Additionally, 54% reported that they “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often” ask their children to put down their devices in an attempt to increase parent/child interaction. More specifically, 37% of parents of children between the ages of 0 and 2, 58% with children between the ages of 3 and 5, and 67% with children between the ages of 6 and 8 reported asking their children to put down technology.
My oldest two children both have computers to use for homeschooling. Both have access to Minecraft as well as educational programs like Duolingo. All my children have tablets. My oldest has a phone, and my second has a smartwatch. We also own some gaming systems. However, aside from for schoolwork, technology use is a privilege in our house. I take away technology as needed. I make my children get off their technology as needed. Using technology has a place in modern life, but technology cannot take over life.
Comments Davis-McFarland: “While apps may be able to teach new words or help children reinforce certain skills-and they certainly can occupy children-developmental benefit comes from genuine human interaction. So, while device usage itself may not necessarily be problematic, we do have concern if the time spent on them is taking time away from those vital daily interactions-as many parents are indicating. We urge parents to promote a healthy balance.”
The study also found that children are not the only technology enthusiasts. Half of the parents reported that their devices take away from their own personal reading time. More alarmingly, 41% of the parents said that their children sometimes (or more often) ask them to put down their devices and interact with them.
My husband and I both have smartphones. While I am on my phone a lot, I do not have a problem setting the technology down and not letting my phone get in the way of my living in the real world. I do often ask my husband to put his phone away for a bit, especially during family meals and other family times. He works from home (I envision his job as an internet ninja), so technology is a must for him, but sometimes I need him physically in the here and now. I also impose screen limits on my kids. Screens have their benefits, but so does the world away from the screen.
The critical nature of daily reading and conversation also extends beyond the baby and toddler years, but the study found that reading aloud by parents decreases as children age. Among the parents polled, 51% reported reading aloud daily to children between the ages of 0 and 2, 41% to children between the ages of 3 and 5, and 35% between the ages of 6 and 8.
Said Read Aloud President and Co-Founder Dr. Candace Kendle: “An area of alarm for us is the documented decrease in daily reading aloud among children ages 6-8 in the United States. This drop corresponds with our new poll showing an increase in usage of almost every type of mobile device among 6-8 year olds, as compared to the younger age set. We must ensure device time is not replacing time for reading aloud with these children, who are approaching or are at a pivotal point in their academic careers-when grade-level reading is required to advance beyond 3rd grade and high-stakes testing is occurring.”
Read the full report online at Read Aloud 15 MINUTES/ASHA Popular Technology Survey Report.
This post was originally published on June 6, 2018 and updated on April 13, 2023.
Read Aloud 15 MINUTES/ASHA Popular Technology Survey Report: https://s3.amazonaws.com/asha-website/Read_Aloud_Report_+ASHA_Report+6-18-18.pdf
Technology Distracts Children from Reading and Conversation: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Child_with_Apple_iPad.jpg
Does Reading Aloud Really Matter? Infographic: http://www2.readaloud.org/importance