As we recognize May as Better Hearing & Speech Month, an article published by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), shows us that there is a potential for tech habits to negatively impact people’s speech and hearing.

Recent studies have underscored the overuse of technology in U.S. households. Speech and hearing experts from the ASHA who were recently polled warn that current tech habits, if left unchecked, could produce a "time bomb" that manifests in the form of diminished communication abilities and skills. This “time bomb” encompasses speech and language development, which is dependent on adequate time for verbal exchange such as listening, talking, reading, and interacting with parents—interactions that technology cannot duplicate—and hearing loss, which impedes communication, academic and social success.

New polling from ASHA finds that informing parents and teens of the potential risks that overuse of personal technology devices poses to speech and language development as well as to hearing health prompts an overwhelming willingness to change usage habits.

The polling, conducted in recognition of Better Hearing & Speech Month, found that once informed of communication health risks—the potential for impaired speech and language development and the ability to hear, for example—more than 79 percent of parents said that they are willing to set stronger usage parameters at home and 90 percent are more likely to change their own personal tech device habits to be a better tech role model for their families.

Millennial parents, in particular, are willing to change their habits. The polling found 46 percent of millennial parents say they are much more likely to implement stronger guidelines around technology use in their household—only 22 percent of older parents say the same.

“The strong interest in adopting safer behaviors is a refreshing and hopeful sign,” ASHA 2016 President Jaynee Handelsman, PhD, CCC-A, says. “It suggests that despite our society’s dependence on technology, parents and teens are willing to change their habits in meaningful ways once they learn that overuse comes with risks. It’s encouraging that millennial parents, who have grown up in the digital age, according to our polling show the most willingness to change.”

Eighty-four percent of teens said that they are more likely to keep the volume down on devices; 74 percent are inclined to use their devices less when they are around their parents and family; and 69 percent are so inclined when they are around their friends.

The polling was conducted by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, which surveyed 500 parents of children ages 0–19 from March 17 to 21 and 500 teens ages 13–19 from March 21 to March 24.

The polling shows that both parents and teens, on average, each use tech not only more than 5 hours daily but also when communication abilities and skills are typically developed, including conversations between parents and children as well as family dinners and leisure activities.

Majorities of parents at least sometimes check their phones at the dinner table (50 percent) and use a device during leisure time with their children (67 percent). Additionally, 55 percent of teens reported having no rules limiting tech usage in their homes (although parents disagree: more than two-thirds of parents report implementing at least general guidelines on their children’s use of technology).

The polling also indicates that teens and parents have come to depend on using these devices to solve boredom, get time to themselves, and even communicate with one another rather than talking face to face. For example, more than half of teens (52 percent) reported often or sometimes using texting or instant messaging to communicate with parents when inside the home.

ASHA experts are urging parents and teens to adopt a new “Digital Diet” to help moderate tech use in favor of more conversation and human interaction. Tips include creating a family technology plan, keeping a log, or sponsoring tech-free nights and events.

“We encourage parents to consult the Digital Diet we have developed for guidance making safer tech usage a reality at home,” Handelsman says. “The steps involved are simple and easy, but they can make a big difference preserving and protecting communication health.”

Handelsman notes that the Digital Diet can help build on another bright spot from the polling: 93 percent of teens whose parents have set tech usage rules at home considered rules fair. Similarly, 96 percent of parents who have set usage rules said that they were successful.

For a link to ASHA publications go to http://www.chcneo.com/education and click on the ASHA icon.

Locally, Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma, Inc., dba Afton and Grove Community Health Centers continue to serve the area with the finest in personalized health care. For details or to schedule an appointment contact (918) 257-8029 or (918) 801-7504 or check us out on the web at www.chcneo.com.

– Lee Hilliard, D.Min., Th.D., CAC, is the Outreach and Enrollment Specialist at the Community Health Center of Northeast Oklahoma. For local enrollment assistance with Marketplace, Insure Oklahoma or SoonerCare, please contact Lee at 918-219-4486 or lhilliard@chcneo.org.