Do you think technology is helping or harming children’s development?
It’s long been proven that healthy social skills are born from healthy face-to-face interactions.
For those children in their formative years, these interactions allow for understanding and interpreting non-verbal skills, forming relations with others and learning empathy.
But, the amount of time people are spending on digital screens is beginning to affect the way social skills are being taught and understood, especially for younger children.
Just look at some of the following statistics posted in an article in the Washington Post.
- teens spend 9 hours per day consuming media
- kids ages 8 to 10 spend 5.5 hours per day consuming media
- adults spend 11+ hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media
One of the core risks from technology impacting social interactions is the hampered development of social skills, as well as compromised emotional well-being.
Here are some of the concerns regarding use of technology and how this may affect children.
Texting has replaced face-to-face communications
In a 2010 study it was reported that text-messaging has become the primary method of communication for teens and pre-teens.
This is unfortunate because texting and digital messaging lacks any of the meaningful exchanges that can come from a face-to-face encounter. Learning to use and understand non-verbal language will allow children to grow into more competent communicators in the future.
Personal interactions provides experience "reading" visual and vocal clues such as:
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Body positioning
- Tones of voice
Obviously, there are many advantages to using technology and texting for the purpose of communicating, but an excess of this type of socially interactive technologies (SITs) can increase social anxieties and undermine a child’s confidence when having interpersonal encounters.
Furthermore, digital messages can always be misunderstood and this is not as common in face-to-face encounters. This can always increase the feelings of social rejection and isolation.
This can be especially detrimental to those in their younger and developmental stages who are craving the feeling of being understood and accepted. The natural course of action for these people is to avoid face-to-face reactions as they are much harder for them.
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Social media contributes to feelings of social disconnection
Social media has become fully-integrated into modern life. In 2009, a Common Sense Media report showed that 22% of teenagers will access their social media accounts as many as 10 times in a day. It is likely that this number is higher in 2020.
Time spent engaging social media replaces time that could be spent fostering valuable and meaningful friendships and navigating the more difficult points of a relationship. According to anxiety specialist Wendy Corliss, “there have also been reports made by 14-24 year olds that social media encounters and engagements have led to feelings of depression, loneliness, poor body image and anxiety.”
Empathy is at stake
Digital communications can begin to replace valuable social encounters and social media engagement can contribute to social isolation.
The impact to human interaction by technological communications also threatens empathy and children are not the only ones being affected.
What parents can do to reduce technology usage
Every parenting decision made can impact your child’s development. But it is also important to see this as an opportunity to benefit your child and facilitate their development.
There are many activities that parents can perform with their children that can have this effect.
- Telling stories
- Playing games
- Being creative together
Taking the time to instill social skills and empathy through positive interactions is an important part of child development. Residential home designer Rick Buick explains that “many new homeowners are including technologically-free rooms in new house designs. This provides a space for kids to go to get away from technology and just enjoy being kids.”
For those that need help, some of the guidelines in regard to social media usage may look like this.
Infants under 18 months should be kept safe from all types of screen media, other than video chats with friends and family. Babies should be interacting with people and their environment and not glued to a screen that replaces the babysitter.
A study was performed that showed a baby’s capacity to interact and play was hampered by the presence of a TV in the room with them.
A 2-year-old is able to learn words and sounds from videos and people on live chat and interact with touch screens. Studies have shown that the key factor in getting the most from these videos or interactive touchscreens is when the parent also reviews the information and reviews it with the toddler later.
There are many top-quality children’s shows that are great choices for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Many of these shows have been especially well-designed to improve cognitive abilities, teach new words and positively impact social behavior.
It is important to remember that most of the apps on the market today have not been designed by developmental specialists. These could be detrimental when they take away from playtime with other children and caregivers. It also maximizes the benefits of these educational materials if the information is co-viewed by the parent or caregiver and then applied in interactions with the child.
Is your child learning effectively?
Too much technology can have a negative impact on social skills. That goes without saying.
However, as the world becomes an increasingly connected and technological place, technology will be beneficial to children too.
Ultimately, as with most things in life, the solution can be found in balance.