Smartphone Technology and Language Development: Pros and Cons

iPads, iPhones and apps.  Today’s buzz is all about Smartphone technology and what “apps” will benefit development and academic skills in children.  Parents frequently request recommended apps to best address their child’s speech and language skills.  After all, we want to take advantage of the latest learning tools and most cutting edge technology to help our kids succeed.  However, use of Smartphone technology should be approached with caution.  Like all good things, moderation is key.

Here are a few important points to consider before integrating Smartphone children on phonestechnology into your child’s daily routine:

Pros: What are the positive benefits of Smartphone technology?

  • Smartphone apps provide excellent “drill” style activities to teach specific skill sets, such as vocabulary building, phonologic awareness, articulation skills, and learning new concepts.
  • Devices such as tablets, Smartphones and iPads expose children to modern day technology, improving their computer literacy and ability to navigate such tools.
  • Smartphone apps provide a fun and entertaining activity for children. This can be excellent choice for breaks from homework, rewards or car-rides.

Cons: What are the negative effects of Smartphone technology?

  • Smartphone apps promote passive learning and provide little opportunity for creativity, social interaction, problem-solving, sustained attention, ideation, and make-believe. All of these skills are foundational to development in children by promoting motor skills, language learning, problem-solving, and social skills.
  • While Smartphone apps may encourage children to talk or practice sounds, they do not encourage children talk to an actual person. Language is a reciprocal social system, intended for communication between people. It’s critical that children learn to communicate with others in a reciprocal context.
  • Smartphone apps do not promote the use of novel language.  A critical part of language development includes the ability to arrange words into combinations, building sentences to communicate their thoughts and ideas.
  • Smartphone applications offer little opportunity to learn social skills. Social skills include interpreting nonverbal cues, making eye-contact, initiating conversation, and responding to others.
  • When it comes to learning, practicing skills in context is critical. So even though Smartphones might teach children new skills, they do not offer opportunities for children to generalize these skills in a real-life context.

So what can parents do?

Here are a few practical steps as families navigate their child’s use of tablets, Smartphones and iPads:

  • Think moderation. Limit your child’s use of electronics, and set boundaries ahead of time so your child knows what to expect.
  • Encourage activities that encourage creativity, social interaction, problem solving, sustaining attention, ideation, and make-believe. A few good choices include blocks, dress-up, play-doh, books, pretend food, and baby dolls.
  • Spend face-to-face time with your child every day. Encourage your child to participate in play with you and encourage their use of their language, facial expressions, eye-contact, and engagement.

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