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Children’s communication charity responds to Tristram Hunt comments

"Bad parents and iPhones to blame for children's poor communication skills"

The Telegraph reported yesterday that Labour MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Tristram Hunt, blames children’s poor communication skills on bad parenting, saying that rather than talking to their children, these parents are simply letting them play on smartphones. His comments reference a University of Derby study from earlier this year that found that smartphone users spent an average of 3.6 hours a day on their device.

He said: “More children are presenting with serious difficulties when it comes to speech and language. In disadvantaged communities, children’s ability to talk, to play, to interact is often markedly behind. When I ask if the condition is getting worse, all heads say yes and they blame the iPhone.” His comments suggest that responsibility for this issue falls on parents, more so than schools or government, adding: “All too often it is schools which are left to address the learning gap, but it is poor parenting which is at fault. This isn’t a question of money: every parent can afford to talk to their child. It is a question of culture and understanding. Poor parents are often themselves victims of poor parenting. Most likely, they don’t understand the cumulative impact on scrolling down their smartphone rather than engaging with their 6-month-old.”

In response, I CAN Director of Outcomes and Information, Mary Hartshorne stated: “As the children’s communication charity, I CAN has long campaigned about children’s poor communication; there is evidence that this is a particular issue in areas of disadvantage. A recent report issued by the Read On. Get On campaign – of which I CAN is a founder member – presents new evidence that children in deprived areas have poorer language skills at age 3 and without support are more likely to stay behind their wealthier peers. It is well evidenced that good language skills are essential for children to do well at school, to learn to read and to make friends.”

“At I CAN we strongly endorse the important role that face-to-face interaction has in supporting children’s language development,” says Hartshorne. “However, we need to embrace the opportunities that technology brings. We know that used in the right way television and touchscreen devices can support children’s language development – what’s important is that children talk with other children and adults whilst using them. We know from extensive research that children struggle to communicate for a range of reasons and various factors affect this development. What is important is ensuring that parents and carers have the information they need to help their children develop these essential skills; skills needed to do well at school, to learn to read and to make friends. With this knowledge, they can also identify any difficulties as early as possible to get the support they need.”

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Pie Corbett