Arts

Social Skills and Interaction of Children in Digital Age

8 September 2021

We’ve all seen people on a train, at a restaurant, waiting in a doctor’s office, sitting in traffic even, with their eyes glued to a phone, rather than being aware of their surroundings or interacting with other people. Yes, even adults struggle to maintain a screen time-real time balance of activities. Still, young children who are true digital natives spend even more time online and on screens, thus making social skill development and interactions with others even less likely to be practiced and honed.

First, it is essential not to throw the baby out with the bathwater — not all screen time lacks social interaction! Young people often interact using FaceTime/social media apps, video gaming with friends using headsets, and texting one another. However, ALL young people need to develop the life skill of appropriate attention and engagement social skills to help build and maintain their relationships and eventual employment, which will require social skills.

 

As often as possible, parents are encouraged to help their young children put screens away (completely away!) when talking in person with friends or relatives or when out in the community. Not having a screen within arm’s reach encourages better eye contact, posture, attention, facial expression, and a true sense of enjoyment for social interaction. There are many opportunities for these conversations with children: during family meals, at community outings such as school activities, sporting events, or church, when students have friends over for study sessions or playdates.

It’s important to have face-to-face interactions so that young children can experience genuine emotions. Unfortunately, there is not as much quality as quantity in online interactions. Cyberbullying is so prevalent because there are no immediate repercussions for bad behavior in real life, dulling the emotional response or empathy for the bully. Texts and emojis may communicate a kind of emotion, but it’s not the same as being with your friend and laughing together in person. A good rule of thumb is that when people are around people, phones should be put away. Save Snapchat, TikTok, and Facebook for ways to stay connected when you are apart, not when you are together.

Parents can influence and explicitly teach social skills to their children from a young age. For instance, they can emphasize the value of healthy friendships that offer support, comfort, and a sense of belonging to young people. They also provide social skill development opportunities, such as learning to collaborate with others, communicate effectively, settle problems, and reject negative peer pressure.

To ease their teen’s social interactions, parents could also teach their teens expected social interaction behaviors such as eye contact, conversational turn-taking, and mirroring others’ emotions.