Education

The Fourth T of early brain development: Turn It Off

Among journalist Katie Couric's civic concerns, the "30 million word" gap and technology's impact on it

Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/iphone-smartphone-desk-mobile-518101/

There is one thing that concerns veteran journalist Katie Couric nearly as much as the tone of meanness and personal venom that flows through what passes for public discourse these days.

It’s probably in your hand — or close by — right now.

“It is constant,” Couric told Marc Maron on the latest episode of his podcast. “I find myself wasting oodles of time on this device (she says of her smartphone). I think it’s very damaging.

“You know, they did this study that the difference between a child of poverty and a child of means is something like 30 million words by the time they’re three. And it’s because mothers who have a higher socioeconomic status, they are talking to their kids more. Talking to them constantly, saying, ‘Look at that red apple!’ You know they’re verbal interactions are nonstop.

“And a friend of mine said, ‘Did you ever think, I see all these young mothers pushing strollers and they’re on their phones. And they’re not really talking to their kids.’ And I thought, you know, this is really its a dangerous thing because so much of childhood development is based on this verbal interactivity.”

The interview is wide-ranging, lasts about 97 minutes and touches on Couric’s career, personal life, take on the current political landscape, her new podcast and more. Link: http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episode-745-katie-couric

The concerns Couric expressed were echoed by Dr. Dana Suskind, author of “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain.” In her book, Suskind wrote of concern that the impact of the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and devices will have on language and brain development of young children.

Suskind’s suggestions to help parents boost a child’s early language development are under the “Three T’s” umbrella: Tune In, Talk More, Take Turns. A fourth T, she writes, could be “Turn It Off.”

“TMW is not alone in believing that excessive use of technology is bad for children,” Suskind writes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or technology AT ALL for children under 2.

For ages 2 and up, the recommendation is one to two hours a day — and that goes for anything with a screen.

“Technology does serve a purpose,” Suskind writes. “But it definitely is a habit to take notice of and when it interferes with a parent’s interaction with a young child, it’s something to moderate.”

Exposure to words and books and music early and often in that critical 0 to 3 period is instrumental in building strong connections in baby’s brains, connections that will help them be ready to learn come kindergarten.

That’s an issue in Escambia County, where the most recently available data says that only 66 percent of our children were ready for kindergarten, according to the Florida Office of Early Learning.

Children who are behind at kindergarten are more likely to struggle to be at grade level in reading by third grade, when “reading to learn” instead of “learning to read,” becomes the norm.

Without that early language exposure, the young brain literally shrivels from lack of use.

When that happens, it can make it hard for a child not only to learn to read, write and add and subtract, but also to think critically, to control his emotions when he gets frustrated, to focus on long-term goals. The parts of the brain that control those functions won’t develop properly without good, positive, loving interaction between the child and their parent in a word-rich environment.

That’s something you can’t get from a screen.