Assignment: 1) Watch “The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native”

2) Read “Digital media erodes social skills in children”

3) Read “When Children Text All Day, What Happens To Their Social Skills?”

Guiding Question: How does the internet affect a child’s social skills offline?

Response: The internet has made it so everyone can be accessible 24/7. According to Devorah Heitner, “Every time someone tries to reach them [the children], they feel they need to be accessible” (“The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native”). Instead of thinking logically and understanding that the other may be busy, they may think that that person doesn’t want to be their friend anymore. This accessibility has actually made a child anxious and more “needy” in terms of needing to be responded every time they send a message. The child may be constantly checking his phone to see if he has gotten a reply, and send another message if a response has not come. While the recipient may be busy and annoyed, the child has probably done the same thing at some point. With the use of technology, the child does not consider the possibility that there’s something else. The idea that children even posed a solution to this as a “text-lock” application that limits the amount of texts someone can send to you supports the idea that even children have noticed the problem, especially when they’re not the ones who are texting. It’s reassuring to know that they do see the problem because if children were to remain ignorant, they would possibly continue to look at their phones constantly. Even though you’re technologically always available does not mean that you’re available to communicate. Technology has made communication easy, but that does not mean that it should be abused.

In fact, Heitner states:

“Every single kid who i’ve met, this age, who i’ve talked to about what problems in your life does technology exacerbate, have all talked about the most important people in their life being inaccessible because of technology. Because the cloud of technology that surrounds these people makes them so inaccessible when they’re needed the most” (“The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native”).

Children even wanted to create an app called “stop texting, enjoy life”, which would turn off the parent’s phone when their child spoke to them. It’s ironic that the technology that is supposed to make communication easier can actually interrupt it. In choosing to check your phone for a text, you may be ignoring what’s happening in the real world and lacking the communication you could have with the friend that’s right in front of you. It’s also interesting that adults are also susceptible to the same type of behavior, and that’s why children have requested such applications. Communication is an important skill for children to learn, however, the communication that’s witheld through technology cannot offer the same skills that would be maintained through real-life communication.

Supporting this, a study was conducted amongst 6th graders, separated into two groups, one having no access to technology, and studied their ability to recognize people’s emotions from some images (Lewis “Digital media erodes social skills in children”). In just five days, children who abstained from using technology were better able to identify the person’s emotion. This seems to be because:

“In face-to-face communication, information is conveyed by such behaviors as facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice, and body language. The ability to pick up on those cues is important for developing social skills and better relationships with their peers, the study said, adding that young children who can’t see another’s face or body are less quick to pick up emotional signals” (Lewis “Digital media erodes social skills in children”).

While the child may be simply looking at an image and recognizing the emotion, he or she is still better able to notice the body language captured that the internet may not always offer. Yes, there’s applications like Skype, but it isn’t as personal. The body language that is given can be different online than offline. It’s easier to act a certain way when you’re far away and just connected by a screen than when you’re right in front of the person and your actions appear to be more genuine. The idea is that what is needed for social skills to develop is not present, and this can also prevent the children from understanding emotions and from being able to empathize. No matter the age, it’s important to understand emotional cues whether it be for work related purposes or personal purposes.

Katherine Bindley also serves to help us see how children use technology to avoid social circumstances. In “When Children Text All Day, What Happens To Their Social Skills?”, Katherine Bindley states:

“We all know the story of kids breaking up with each other through text message. When you have to fire someone or give them bad news, it’s uncomfortable. In face-to-face conversation, you’ve got to think on your feet. … You’ve got to respond right away.”

That’s the issue. The online world does not give a clear depiction of the real one. When you respond to a text, you can think about what you want to send before you actually send it. You can filter yourself. However, this isn’t how it works in face-to-face communication. If you’re in an interview, you have to think on the spot, which is something that your online skills don’t help you develop. Instead they help you avoid uncomfortable situations:

‘“They don’t know how to handle conflict face to face because so many things happen through some sort of technology,” said Melissa Ortega, a child psychologist at New York’s Child Mind Institute. “Clinically, I’m seeing it in the office. The high school kids who I do see will be checking their phones constantly. They’ll use it as an avoidance strategy. They’ll see if they got a text message in the two minutes they were talking to me”’ (Bindley “When Children Text All Day, What Happens To Their Social Skills?”).

If children and adolescents feel uncomfortable, they will use their technology. It’s a way of closing off all communication. For instance, people tend to know not to bother someone who’s wearing earbuds, and similarly the probability that someone will talk to you when you look preoccupied on your phone are slim. Instead of feeling pressured by someone’s eye contact, we have somewhere else to look. There’s no pressure when talking online versus offline. Children are also probably in better condition to handle problems online. That is, they also know how to manage their emotions and think more logically. They have time to post or respond. They also don’t have facial gestures that will tell the other person on the other side they’re uncomfortable. Instead, they can just turn to their technology because doing things on a more impersonal level is easier to do than personally, even if that may not be a clear depiction of life.

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