Watching a small child smoothly navigate through home screen icons and apps can be pretty impressive, but it’s also probably no surprise in today’s high-tech world that’s fueled by high-tech devices. It’s quite a difference, though, from the childhoods that we as parents experienced, but we can certainly appreciate the wide-open window technology provides to a new level of knowledge –and all at a kid’s fingertips.

What’s not so impressive, however, is possibly witnessing that same child ignore polite face-to-face requests of a grandparent, or barely respond to someone when asked a simple question. As a parent who also strives to succeed in the professional world, it’s all too easy to let your mind drift ahead 20 years where this child is at a job interview, unable to keep focus and interact in the process in an engaging manner!

And therein lies a great conundrum to parents: how do you encourage your children’s use of technology for greater learning, while not stifling the development of still-important communication skills?

Heck, we ourselves may be a huge contributing factor to the problem. We all too easily take our work everywhere –the family dinner, the baseball game, and the sunny trip to the park. Are you not hearing/listening to what the waiter asking you? Are you missing out on friendly acknowledgments from friendly faces on a Sunday afternoon out?

Point being –maybe today’s kids have the double whammy. They’ve grown up and evolved their sense of learning around devices, and while we did not, we still carry our phones or other devices with us everywhere, making sure that an important work project didn’t slide or even simply to guarantee we didn’t miss anything on Facebook.

Luckily, there are simple steps you can take to guide the way, ensuring your child grows up to be an effective communicator, even in the face of today’s technology surge:

  1. First and foremost, set the standard and be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners not only online but in person! Actively engage in conversations with people. Set the example –whether it’s at a restaurant or your own dinner table. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use outside of usual business hours. In fact, you’ll be more
    available for and connected with your children if you’re interacting, hugging, and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
  2. Instill the value of face-to-face communication from a very early age. Children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in a back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it’s that “back-and-forth conversation” that improves language skills—much more so than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen.
  3. Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
  4. Grab a good ole book. For starters, a trip to the library to select a few good books sparks a nice conversation about what you did as a child before e-reading existed. It’s also a nice place to peruse selections and have everyone pick out what’s interesting to them. And from there, you can make it a nightly ritual to spending time together reading! Your child will develop a better understanding of characters, plots and vocabulary used. Take turns reading aloud to one another, even if your child just fills a word in here and there. After finishing a book, discuss the setting, plot, characters and any new words that might be in the story.
  5. Make your own family tech use plan. Technology should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, it will enhance daily life and development skills, including communication. Making a plan in advance can offer a balance, and better results for everyone in the family.

So there you have it. Communication skills can certainly go a long way, perhaps more so now than ever. These tips should give you a little boost in helping your little one, and maybe even yourself, create some much-needed screen time/real world balance. And now that you’re done reading this on your device, go spend some quality one-on-one face time with your kiddo.