Dylan is the deputy editor of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Opinion: Why are our children falling silent?

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Children are turning up for their first day at school unable to speak a full sentence. Increased screen time is believed to be contributing to the trend. Photo/File
Children are turning up for their first day at school unable to speak a full sentence. Increased screen time is believed to be contributing to the trend. Photo/File

There is something terribly sad about the fact children are turning up for their first day at school unable to speak a full sentence.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has asked officials to look into what is behind the apparent trend and what can be done to address it.

Increased screen time in front of electronic devices and fewer parents reading to their kids are thought to be contributing factors.

Don McLean, principal of Hampden Street School in Nelson, says the oral language skills of about 10 to 15 of the school's 70 new entrants each year were well below standard.

"What we're seeing is kids who don't speak in sentences - they speak in phrases ... and they don't have a very wide vocabulary.

"We had boys a couple of years ago from a Kiwi family who spoke with American accents.

It's because they learned to speak watching Disney Channel".

He says busy and tired parents not speaking enough with children is part of the issue with many leaving parenting to TV and electronic devices.

A bitter irony exists in the fact that at a time when communication on a global level has never been easier, our children are falling silent.

It suggests that in the rush to adopt newer and quicker forms of communication we have forgotten the most important and most powerful one of all - face-to-face conversation.

First though there needs to be a genuine interest in the lives of others - more than just a passing interest in a friend or relative's latest Facebook post or status update.

Personally, the increasing importance of social media has had a major impact on how I keep in touch with friends and family. While not a frequent poster on Facebook, I do take an interest in what other people are posting about their lives. Often this interaction, if you can call it that, is limited to simply liking something they have posted. Generally it is a token gesture, used to show I'm still connected.

Increasingly though, I'm forming the view there is no real, tangible connection at all.

There's something empty about social media which does not, in my view, generally reflect the true nature of our day to day lives. Facebook pages usually read like highlight reels complete with pictures of overseas holidays, witty observations and inspirational quotes about life.

I'm not the only person who feels this way.

According to the New York Post, in 2013 two tech entrepreneurs started asking people in the Big Apple to do something unheard of - put down their cell phones and tablets for a few minutes and sit and talk.

Mike Scott and Tony Cai, founders of FreeConvo as it came to be known, travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in their off time, setting up four inflatable couches, two red coffee tables, and signs inviting people to "form real life connections" by sitting down to chat.

People jumped at the opportunity.

"The first time we sat there, we saw it, how it changes people, makes them feel better," said Cai. "People connect and feel heard."

I don't feel we're at a point where such a scheme is needed in this country, but it does appear that many children need to have less screen time.

When it comes to meaningful connections, there is still no modern replacement for a family sitting together at the table talking, or a parent reading a book to their child.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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