Do Our Kids Fail the Emotional Intelligence (EI) Test?

Without real time, real people experiences, our kids are having trouble forging connections and developing empathy.

EI is the ability to recognize your emotions, and those of other people

As parents it’s all too easy to become obsessed with our children’s academic performance, believing that early success is the best guarantee of great things to come. But what we often overlook is the importance of emotional intelligence (EI). The term gained traction in 1995 with the publication of psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book by that name and more recently has even been bandied about in various TED talks, along with grit and resilience, as one of they key predictors of success in life.

Simply put, EI is the ability to recognize your emotions — and those of other people — and use that information to guide your thinking and behavior. If you can understand your own moods and feelings, you’re better able to see how they affect the people around you. That awareness, in turn, leads to greater empathy and compassion, stronger social skills and better relationships. People with high EI are also better at managing their feelings — that is, controlling and redirecting their impulses, thinking before acting, etc. They’re more adaptable and open to change. High grades and high IQs are all well and good, but when it comes to helping our kids navigate life and guiding them toward future success, you can’t leave emotional IQ and social skills out of the mix.

But they’re getting buried in our digital world. Face-to-face social interaction is being replaced by screen interaction, and not always with real people. Kids now spend six hours a day glued to their cell phones, tablets and mini pads, TVs, games and consoles. Teens are even more addicted, spending nine hours daily, according to a survey by Common Sense Media.

And without real time, real people experiences, our kids are having trouble forging connections and developing empathy. Communicating via texts and apps like Instagram become a shallow substitute for true friendship. “I have a friend who texts me all the time and acts like we’re so close,” a teen tells me. “But when I see her, she acts so different. You’d never guess she texts me hearts and says she can’t wait to see me. It’s weird.” A 2014 UCLA study found that compared to peers who spend hours a day glued to their devices, sixth-graders who spent five days at a nature camp where they had to give up their smartphones, TV or other screens were better able to read human emotions and identify feelings, whether happy or angry, sad or scared, when they looked at people in photographs and videos. The problem isn’t just limited to tweens. According to media expert Sherry Turkle, author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” college students, with their ubiquitous phones, are having a harder time with the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation.

In other words, when it comes to EI, our kids are flunking the test.

We know that IQ is a matter of both nature and nurture. And EI is no different. As the UCLA study suggests, we can help kids boost their EI by dialing back on screen time. Problem is, most parents have no rules in place to do just that. That’s not surprising. Getting kids to disconnect is incredibly hard, and constantly getting on their case about it creates a lot of friction and stress. We should not give up! We should be there parent and guide our children in this world of technology. It is ok to use helping tool like Screen, parents don’t always have to play bad cop, and their are tools to help kids play by the rules.