This is the ninth in a series of articles about how technology affects child growth and development.
Q: What are the negative effects of technology on the communication skills of children and teens?
A: On the website Social Media Today, in a recent article edited by Karan Chapra, some negative effects of technology on communication skills are discussed. Social Media breaks down personal boundaries and users post information on Facebook that they would probably never share with that same number of people on the phone. Over-sharing encourages sharing confidences among Facebook users.
When addressing an audience or a class, public speakers cannot maintain eye contact with listeners. What they see are the backs of computers and the tops of heads because listeners are typing notes or tweets during presentations. Many speakers find this situation distressing.
Another negative effect of mobile devices is the use of cell phones in social settings. People sit with other people and do not converse with those persons but continue conversations on social media. Apparently disconnecting from social media to converse with someone in person is difficult.
The majority of people’s communication occurs online, according to a blog posted by McKenzie Nelson in 2012. However, she points out that the most important question is the impact of social media on communication quality. She emphasizes that sites such as Facebook and Twitter lead people toward becoming unhappy or insecure in their own lives if they compare themselves unfavorably to others online. Sites such as Twitter limit the characters allowed to 140, thereby necessitating short sentences and abbreviated thoughts. Too much online time can unduly influence these students when they are writing long and formal papers.
Graduate student Joseph Watkins in 2014 wrote an article in Good Marketing entitled Technology and the Decline in Communication Skills. He states there is a lot of research that documents a decline in communication skills in his generation due to technology use.
Texting is probably the most utilized quick messaging modality. One source stated that 18-to-24 year olds average close to 4,000 text messages monthly. Experts on social media state that depth in communication has declined. People seem to be more passive and to avoid meaningful communications.
The greatest deficiency in technological communication is the lack of non-verbal communication. One of the interesting quirks about technological communication is that some people who friend other people on Facebook might not speak to them when seeing them in person. There also is a shift from in-person to online communication as people’s communication of choice.
Online conversations affect how candid users are. With comparatively lower consequences than in-person conversations, informality and inappropriate conversations are commonplace on social media. In an article by freelance writer Robin Mejia on the Parenting website, she points out that kids are spending lots of time engaging others online during the time they are expected to be forming and maintaining relationships.
Research from Pew Internet and American Life Project documents that families experience new levels of connectedness via Social Media. What is being squeezed out is TV time. However, there is a negative aspect to increased family technology time. These families were less likely to eat dinner together and were more likely to report feeling dissatisfied with both family and leisure time. When total time online increased beyond a given point, both parents and kids reported feeling less close.
On Ragan’s PR Daily website, Susan Young posted an article entitled “4 ways texting is killing our communication skills.” First, texting decreases the need for any in-depth conversation. Texting can also be a form of avoidance, as abbreviations help people avoid meaningful dialogue.
Texting dumbs down grammar and spelling. Texting takes shortcuts with emoticons, spelling and punctuation, thereby depriving children and teens from learning the writing and communication skills they need for post-secondary education and work. The question is whether or not the acronyms, shortcuts, and abbreviations of sloppy communications seriously affect the quality of school work or written communications not online.
The article continues with the concept that texting prevents people from being completely present in their lives. Texting interrupts brain function and attention. It detours focus away from activities and tasks people are experiencing at the moment.
Finally Susan Young states that texting encourages ambiguity. Communication researcher Friedham Hillebrand, when trying to standardize technology that would permit cell phones to transmit and display messages, discovered that the average question or sentence needed only 160 characters. That number of characters allows opportunities to make mistakes reading between the lines.
Next week’s article will discuss how technology negatively affects social skills in children and teens.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.