Do Electronics Prevent Your Child from Learning Real Social Skills?

preschooler playing on tablet

When summer vacation rolls around, many kids start spending more free time playing electronic games, posting on social networks, and texting (not to mention watching more TV). More than half are connecting to electronics instead of linking with friends in person. Could your child’s social skills be affected by over-using electronic media? Are you concerned that your child is spending more time playing video games than interacting with their friends through traditional "play" or more outdoor activities? Numerous studies have shown that electronics can impact kids’ social development. Whether that effect will be positive or negative may be up to parents, teachers, and the youth themselves. Read on to learn more.

Electronics Can Be Social

In just the past few years, the number of young adults that use social networking has skyrocketed. Most have cell phones, which they use for texting and social media. Current statistics show that among youth aged 12 to 17, about 93 percent are online; 71 percent own a cell phone; and 65 percent visit social networking sites.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published findings that show how electronic media can be pro-social and educational. The AAP states that online communication can stimulate adolescents’ social connectedness, and thereby, contribute to their sense of well-being.

Some of our children’s social growth is actually happening while they’re online or on their cell phones. When teens use social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook and Instagram, they get many chances to interact with friends and classmates.

dad playing video games with kids

Electronics May Hinder

While electronic media may encourage social connections, the AAP also expresses concern over the association with aggressive behaviors and substance use when electronics are used excessively. For example, frequent postings about teasing and sexual behaviors are correlated with social issues such as cyber-bullying and “sexting.” The AAP states that excessive use of electronic media by youth is associated with increased hostility and academic problems.

Fostering Good Social Skills in the Internet Age

Before summer slips away with your kids glued to their electronics, set aside time to teach social skills. Betty Osman, PhD, at White Plains Hospital Center – Department of Behavioral Health, offers ideas for real social skills to teach and practice with your child:

  • How to start, hold, and finish a conversation with peers

  • How to communicate in an appropriate manner to get what you desire

  • How to offer and accept compliments from others

  • How to handle teasing behaviors by others

As your children spend more time engaged in an electronic media world, you will need to discuss with them these social tips relating to the use of electronics:

  • There are limits to what types of things can and cannot be shared online

  • Learn how to use cell phones and the Internet securely

  • There are ways to treat others online appropriately

brother and sister playing on the computer

Limit Screen Time

For kids over age two, the AAP suggests allowing one to two hours (or less) of screen time each day (this includes cumulative screen time from phones, gamers, computers, and television). Parents with children under 2 years old should avoid screen time altogether.

It is also advised that you keep youths’ bedrooms free of media. Try to keep the television and family computer in a common room, and watch TV shows and Internet programs with your kids. Talk about the content together.

The AAP also discourages bringing young children to PG-13 and R movies. According to social learning theory, children learn certain behaviors from what they see—and exposure to negative behavior, violence, sexual behavior, and drug use may be associated with their adopting such behaviors.