Good words are worth much …. (George Herbert)

Dr. Paula Stone is Senior Lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her interests are class and education.

I have been struck by the number of recent articles and debates around the use of social media and the impact that this is having on young people.

As highlighted by Harriet Smithers in her recent blog which was commentating  on the ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report’ (OfCom, 2017) there are both negative and positive connotations to children using social media. However in  a recent article in the Guardian Jemima Kiss recounts a number of stories in which children are coming to harm because their parents are distracted by their phone, including one mum who had been so distracted her baby had fallen downstairs without her noticing.

But for me, what stood out in this article was that smartphones are having a negative impact on conversational and academic development of very young children. It is alleged that in a recent YouGov report (2017) that 83 per cent of headteachers believe there is a rising number of four-year-olds arriving for their first day at school unable to speak properly. According to British educationalist Robin Alexander, children need to talk, and to experience a rich diet of spoken language in order to think and learn. Alexander (2008) argues that “in dialogic interactions, children are exposed to alternative perspectives and required to engage with another person’s point of view in ways that challenge and deepen their own conceptual understandings”.

So if children are not being exposed to conversations because their parents are too engaged with their phones, not only is their ability to interact socially being impaired, but there could also be lasting damage to their ability to learn.

So what can we do? As parents, grandparents, and guardians we should put away our phones and talk to our children. Simple questions like “Tell me one nice thing you have done today?” which just allow your children to explore their emotions and talk out loud for extended periods. Here is a resource to help.

As teachers we need to make sure that tasks are planned with an eye to their potential to provoke and benefit from talk-based activities so that there are ample opportunities for dialogue that goes beyond simple questions and answers. You might find this resource from the National Society for Educational Art and Design useful.

Whether you are a parent, guardian or teacher give an activity a go….for the sake of our children.

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