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Turn Off Your Smart Phone and Talk to Your Childen - By Dave Tayloe MD

Posted: 12/05/2011

During the 2010 Education Summit of the NC Chamber of Commerce, a most knowledgeable speaker explained that North Carolina is losing jobs because we do not have a skilled workforce that can support the technological needs of modern industries.

28% of our students do not graduate high school, making it very difficult for NC to develop the workforce necessary to compete for industries and jobs.  But, our workforce problems begin way before our students reach high school.

35% of NC five-year-olds do not have age-appropriate language skills, and one-third of third-graders are not reading at grade level.

Many future dropouts are born to single mothers in poverty.  We are making progress in adolescent pregnancy prevention and we have excellent infrastructure (Smart Start, Head Start, More at Four, Medicaid, CHIP, public health, public schools) to support these struggling families.  We cannot afford not to fully fund this infrastructure so that all at-risk children have the support they need to become successful young adults. 

I believe, however, that even if we fully fund this infrastructure, too many of our children will continue to become dropouts.  What can we do as a community?

As a pediatrician providing primary care to a large indigent population in eastern NC for almost 35 years, I would submit that many of our problems stem from the proliferation of technology in our society.  I believe that our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and guardians today are so glued to their smart phones, computers, TV sets, and adult video games that they are unconsciously ignoring the vital role they must play in assuring the optimal speech and language development of young children.  I have trouble connecting with caregivers during office visits because their smart phones are going off, or they are operating these devices while I am trying to talk with them about the developmental, health, and safety needs of their children.

Research in early brain and child development has proven that babies and young children develop language skills in direct proportion to the amount of time their adult caretakers spend talking face-to-face with them about nearby objects and ongoing activities.  Children develop reading skills because adult caretakers spend time reading to babies and very young children, and helping them learn to read in kindergarten and the early elementary grades.

In our pediatric practice, we participate in an innovative evidence-based program called Reach Out and Read.  We give age-appropriate books to all babies and young children at all check-ups from 6 months to 5 years of age.  We remind families to turn off their smart phones, computers, TV sets, and video games whenever their children are awake, so that adult caretakers spend as much “face time” as possible talking with their children and reading to their children.  We encourage parents to require all babies and young children to sit in safe seats at the table for all feedings so that families take advantage of meal and snack times for conversation.  And we point out to families that there are numerous opportunities (playing games on the floor, strolling and swinging outside, giving baths, riding in the car) throughout the day when adult caretakers can talk with their babies and young children.

Early brain and child development is all about face-to-face talking time with babies and young children.  All adults must try their best to turn off their smart phones and other technology and talk with babies and young children as much as possible.  Young adult outcomes and our economy depend upon the early speech and language development of our youngest children. 

David T. Tayloe, Jr., MD, FAAP

Goldsboro Pediatrics, PA

Board Member, Action for Children NC

Medical Director, Reach Out and Read of NC

Member, North Carolina Early Childhood Advisory Council


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