Each May, Better Hearing and Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders. The theme for 2017, is "Communication: The Key to Connection." Under this theme, Health Service Authority’s (HSA’s) Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) and Chairperson of the Caribbean Speech Hearing Association (CaribSHA), Faith Gealey, is highlighting the potential risks overuse of personal technology devices pose to speech and language development as well as to hearing health.In the US an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) poll revealed 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” includes 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.“At HSA we see a large number of children with language delays who also have long and frequent screen time exposure,” Ms Gealey stated. “Many children who have long exposure to screen time present red flag characteristics of other neurological and social communication disorders, simply because the nature of technology usage does not promote social and communication development. Basic behaviours, such as making eye contact when speaking to someone are greatly diminished in people who overuse technology.“Research tells us that children who are engaged in technology have diminished creativity and do not interact with other people when compared to children who are engaged in non-technological activities. Although we don’t have specific statistics available for the Cayman Islands, it is safe to say that the occurrences on island are not much different than what we are seeing from other developed countries,” she added.The ASHA poll shows that both parents and teens in the US, on average, each use tech not only more than five 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.Fifty per cent of parents sometimes check their phones at the dinner table and 67 per cent use a device during leisure time with their children. Additionally, 55 per cent of teens reported having no rules limiting tech usage in their homes although a majority of parents reported implementing at least general guidelines on their children’s use of technology.The poll also showed teens and parents have come to depend on using tech devices to solve boredom, get time to themselves and communicate with one another rather than talking face to face. For instance, more than 52 per cent of teens reported often or sometimes using texting or instant messaging to communicate with parents when inside the home.“You need only look around the next time you go to a restaurant to see that a family who is sitting together are all looking at their smart phones and tablets with very little communication exchanges. Technology definitely has its place in our society and there is no question that having a good foundation in technology use will assist our younger generation in the future; however, technology should not be the focus in the first few years of a child’s development. It is up to parents to establish a digital diet that ensures that technology will enhance their children’s communication skills, not impede it,” Ms Gealey noted.In order to curb digital device usage she suggests the following:Parents put timers on children’s tablets or on the television to ensure that children do not exceed the amount of screen time allotted to them.All phones, tablets and smart devices be kept in the parents’ room when not in use.Parents sit and interact with children while they are watching a programme or playing a game.Encourage other activities such as outside play, puzzles, arts and crafts and reading books instead of screen time.Parents unplug from their devices as well and become more active and present in their children’s lives.Parents read books to children as this is the best method to ensure good language development.