Oct 03, 2018
by editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée
Face-to-face interactions are key to healthy social skills. For young people, they are essential in learning to notice and interpret non-verbal cues, in connecting with others, and in developing empathy.
Our increasing time on digital screens, however, jeopardizes the development of healthy social skills, especially among our children and teenagers. Below are some estimates on our children's digital behavior from a 2015 article in the Washington Post, "Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media," by Hayley Tsukayama:
time teens spend consuming media
time kids ages 8 to 10 spend consuming media
Adults also spend a lot of time on digital screens. According to a 2018 Nielsen report:
time American adults spend listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media
The risk from too much technology time is compromised emotional wellbeing and undermined development of social skills.
A 2010 study reported that pre-teens and teenagers used text messaging as their primary source of communication. Text messaging and electronic communications decrease the rich exchanges that can occur from face-to-face interactions.
When two people talk in person, they tune into both spoken and unspoken languages. This can help people feel more connected to others as well as help children develop empathy. This experience with non-verbal language will empower children and teens to navigate their lives more successfully.
Personal interactions provide kids with experience "reading" visual and vocal clues such as:
Tones of voice
While the advantages to texting and other technology use is obvious, too much time with socially interactive technologies (SITs) can increase teens' social anxiety and decrease their comfort and confidence during in-person interactions. Text messages also risk being misinterpreted, which happens more often with digital versus in-person communications. This can increase feelings of social rejection or social isolation. Among teens, this can be more hurtful during a developmental stage that further craves feeling understood and accepted by peers. Naturally, these affected people will increasingly prefer to avoid real life interactions because it's easier.
Social media has become integral in our lives. In 2009, a Common Sense Media survey reported that 22% of teenagers logged onto social media sites more than ten times a day. Today, the numbers are much higher.
Time on social media replaces valuable challenges from fostering friendships or navigating challenging relationships in person. Furthermore, social media—Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—is reported by 14-24 year olds to increase feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness, according to a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health.
In addition to digital communications replacing valuable face-to-face conversations, and social media contributing to social isolation, an unbalanced use of technology threatens empathy as mentioned above. But children are not the only ones at risk.
Researchers are finding that while empathy is learned, it can also be un-learned. Researchers at UCLA studied the brains of adults and found that adult brains also seem sensitive and reactive to too much technology, according to co-authors of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan, in a 2011 article "Is the internet killing empathy?" for CNN.
Learn more about technology and its impact on our health and wellness through our Technology Detox Guide for Families.
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