This is the 10th in a series of articles about how technology affects child growth and development.
Q: How does technology negatively affect developing social skills in children and teens?
A: On the Psych Central website, Lauren Suval points out that texting provides a way to hide and avoid confrontation with friends or romantic relationships. Bernard Geerney Jr., founder of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement, states that people use texting when lacking the courage to face difficult predicaments. Texting can reinforce avoidant tendencies and become habitual in those persons wanting to minimize or eliminate awkward or unpleasant conversations face-to-face.
Children and teens need to be learning social skills that texting enables them to avoid. Texting is impersonal and eliminates verbal communication. Children and teens need human connections and time spent alone. Technology, especially texting, is a convenient choice for persons to use to avoid both human connections and time spent alone.
On a website entitled nvat.com, information from an Elon University study conducted by Courtney Turnbull surveyed 223 persons and held 10 in-depth interviews. Results indicated that face-to-face communication is the ideal way to communicate but that communicating in person is difficult because of the hectic schedules people have daily.
Turnbull reports an increase in the quantity of communication through the Internet, but a decrease in quality in texting and email. Using video chat programs, such as iChat and Skype, helps bridge the gap of the impersonal nature of texting and email. Turnbull found that Baby Boomers are catching up with their skills in using technology.
A study from the University of Sydney, Australia, suggested that the Internet can be useful in expanding social networks provided that people do not spend long periods of time on social media. People who are fearful of social interactions may be utilizing the Internet as a way to socialize at low risk to themselves.
One of the drawbacks to social media in youth ages 13 to 24 and younger is the decrease in the quality of interpersonal skills. During childhood and teenage developmental stages, when needing to learn interpersonal skills, these youth are immersed in social media and thereby lacking enough opportunities to learn interpersonal relationship skills necessary for face-to-face conversations.
Katherine Bindley of Huffingtonpost.com writes about the issue of the outcome for children’s social skills when they spend all day texting. Real time conversations are diminishing at a fast rate. Small talk is largely a thing of the past.
Children and teens do not know how to resolve face-to-face conflicts. Melissa Ortega, child psychologist from New York’s Child Mind Institute, stated high school students whom she counsels constantly check their phones during sessions when talking to her. She sees these youth as lacking the social skills to engage in reciprocal conversations.
Neuroscientist Gary Small believes brains have evolved to prefer constant stimulation and lots of variety. Social media offers ways to communicate with less risk. Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, believes there should be more attention paid to why children are using so much social media. She states that parents or caregivers are using social media to soothe young children and entertain them, replacing adult supervision and interaction.
Consequences of the overuse of social media include decreasing connectedness among family members and friends, lack of ability to self-regulate, and use of social media devices to fill voids in conversations or interactions. A researcher in developmental psychology, Yalda Uhls from the Children’s Digital Media Center, Los Angeles, believes teenagers today are using social media much the same way as teens in the past used television and gaming systems to avoid human interaction.
Al Jazeera America published the results from two studies. The first was conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), under the leadership of psychology professor Patricia Greenfield. She stated that one of the costs of media use is losing the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of others.
To conduct this research, two groups of sixth-graders were housed in a nature camp for five days. One group was not allowed any technology. Both groups were evaluated at the beginning and end of the five days. They were shown videos and pictures of people displaying emotions via non-verbal communication.
The experimental group with no technology made significant improvements in recognizing non-verbal emotions. The control group was allowed to keep its technical devices and did not show the improvement made by the experimental group.
The article written about the sixth-graders cited another study that stated playtime decreased by 20 percent from 1997 to 2003. Media use is beginning at increasingly younger ages and, for most youth, fills the majority of their leisure time. Students in this second study stated they average four and a half hours daily texting, watching television, or playing video games.
Next week’s article will summarize social media characteristics, patterns, and barriers.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.