Is Technology Impeding My Child’s Social Skills?

With the continuous increase in the use of technology throughout our everyday lives, the trend has trickled down to young children as well. iPads, tablets, cell phones, social media, and video games have become staples in every home for both parents, teenagers, and younger children alike. But could this massive use of technology be causing harm to our children’s social skills?

Effects of Technology

Current research has shown that the use of technology in young children and teenagers releases dopamine, a chemical in the brain, which is similar to the release of dopamine that is seen with the addiction of alcohol or drugs. Children and teenagers are also more susceptible to this release, so parents can’t understand why their children are so fascinated with technology because the brain is responding differently at different ages. But most importantly, the use of technology and this “addiction” has slowly stopped face to face interactions between people, and has a negative impact on children’s social skill development.

Social Skills and Technology

With the focus of social skills, children may not be learning how to initiate conversations, listen and respond to topics, deal with conflicts, and know how to respond to pauses or changes in conversation. Instead, children can use technology to avoid most of those things. It is important that children learn and use social skills for many reasons.

Good social skills help to:

1.     Develop positive relationships with parents, teachers, peers
2.     Avoid social rejections
3.     Show resilience during times of stress

Poor social skills can lead to:

1.     Depression
2.     Anxiety
3.     Social exclusion
4.     Poor academic performance

What Can We Do?

As parents, we can encourage social skill development by limiting screen time and practicing those skills with our children. As parents, we may need to limit our screen time as well in order to encourage social interactions within the family.

The important factor in determining how much screen time is too much is individualized by the child and the family. Parents should consider when screen time is healthy and when it becomes unhealthy (because not all screen time is terrible), and if their child can have self-control over technology and understand when technology needs to be turned off. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that parents create “screen free” zones in their homes including children’s bedrooms and at dinner time. Entertainment media should be limited to around 2 hours a day and children should be encouraged to spend time reading, playing outside, playing board games, and using imagination in free play time. Parents should actively participate in this non-media time with their children to encourage social skills and to also model “screen free” time for their children. The AAP also suggests that all children under the age of 2 have no television or media as the brain is rapidly developing and social interaction is key to part of brain development.

While these recommendations are highly valued, parents should consider their child individually and as their child gets older, parent will need to address their expectations with their child in an open conversation.