Most people would agree that technology is a useful tool. We use technology on a daily basis to find local restaurant menus, look up directions, and stay in touch with friends and family members that live far away. Parents can use apps to keep track of their teenagers when they are out. Teachers implement technology in their classrooms to increase engagement and independence, motivate students, and practice problem-solving and teamwork.
As a speech language pathologist, I provide services to clients across the country via telepractice. This allows more students and clients to be seen, often in areas where there is a great need or students would otherwise have to go without services. During the pandemic shutdown, many employees shifted to working from home via their computers and cell phones.
I personally have a love-hate relationship with technology. I imagine some of you can relate. I am so grateful that technology allows me to work from home and help others, but there are also many times that I wish I was less easy to reach at any time of the day or night. The incorporation of technology also comes with an unspoken expectation that productivity and multitasking should automatically increase. However, are we actually accomplishing more things well at a faster pace, or are we trying to do too many things at once (not necessarily well) because we think we can fit more into our busy schedules, while being more distracted than ever before?
What about our children? If technology is impacting adults who are developmentally mature and have fully developed executive function skills, what does that mean for children and teenagers who are inundated by technology during their crucial developmental years? If devices are their main form of communication, will they still be able to communicate effectively without them?
Let’s dive into today’s article in order to answer this question: How has the integration of technology affected the socialization of youth?
Technology on the Rise
Is there such a thing as too much technology? Of course, but it is not always easy to determine how much is too much. It depends on a number of factors, including the age and developmental level of the child, the type of technology being used, what the goal is for the use of technology, if it is an interactive experience or includes adult supervision, etc.
According to a 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, children ages 8 to 10 spent over seven hours per day on technology. This amount increased to more than 11 hours per day for teenagers. These numbers may have increased over the past decade. A report by Common Sense Media indicated that the percentage of children under the age of two who use a cellular device increased from 10% in 2011 to 38% in 2017.
Often when I ask the students I work with about what they did over the weekend or the night before, a significant part of their response (or their entire response) includes technology, such as watching television, playing video games, or chatting with friends. Many children seem to have no limits to the amount of time they can spend on technology, and I have had multiple children tell me that they stay up almost all night playing video games or watching movies in their room. It has become so rare for me to hear that a child has played outside, visited the library, or had a game night with their family, that I get very excited when this is the case!
Devices are marketed to younger and younger audiences, and unlike other things for children, no guidelines are given. “The United States government offers no guidance and leaves technology developers and marketers, who are driven by economics, to decide what is best for children. Or, more commonly, children are left to decide for themselves what is appropriate for them to use as they explore and experiment, and their choices are often influenced by popular culture and peer pressure.” (Fodeman, 2019)
Sometimes we use technology as a matter of convenience for a short time. Life happens! It is when that becomes a habit that it can become a problem. As we know, something that doesn’t seem like a big deal in the moment, can have ramifications in the years to come. Let’s take a look at the ways that the overuse of technology holds children and teenagers back.
Overuse of Technology Leads to Underdeveloped Social Skills
There are several downsides to children’s overuse of technology. Some of these include reduced self esteem, shortened attention span, and increased risk of depression. Even adults can fall into the comparison trap when we see highlight reels of other people’s lives. Many of us are wired for instant gratification, and have difficulty focusing on a singular task while being constantly distracted.
One of the major noticeable results of the increased use of technology by children is the impact it has on the development of their social and communication skills. To read about the social delays caused by COVID policies, head to this post.
Doug Fodeman hosts workshops about internet safety at schools and organizations all over the United States. He has also been working on developmentally appropriate technology use for children for over 20 years. He claims that children and teenagers have increasingly turned to disinhibited forms of communication. Fodeman defines disinhibited communication as those types of communication that “strip away our humanity in ways we typically interact with each other.” Examples of disinhibited communication include texting, chatting, and emailing. Why is disinhibited communication so problematic? “By stripping away at the things that make us most human in our interactions with each other, children run the risk of breaking social norms.” (Fodeman, 2020).
During his interactions with students, Fodeman reports that many teenagers have told him that one of their favorite parts of using technology like smartphones is to avoid “drama,” such as breaking up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. As Fodeman points out, this means that these teenagers “actually missed out on a critically important experience… How to have a challenging conversation with another human being about a difficult topic.” Situations like these, while unpleasant, allow for opportunities to reflect on the interaction and learn from it to determine how to handle it better next time.
Take texting, for example. This form of written communication removes many important components of communication that lead to a more well-rounded and cohesive experience. When you send or receive a text, vocal inflection, body language, gestures, and facial expressions are not conveyed. All of these nonverbal components allow for people to determine how to respond in real time.
Life skills needed as an adult are learned through practice. This applies to communication and social skills as well. When students increasingly turn to technology for their main forms of interaction, they miss out on these crucial learning opportunities. “If children turn to technology more and more to avoid difficult conversations because it is easier to do so, then they avoid important life opportunities to practice and develop both their communication skills and resulting socio-emotional intelligence.” (Fodeman, 2020)
Maybe children can get by well enough for now, but what will this look like as an adult?
Action Steps for Parents and Teachers
As parents and teachers, many of us may have already recognized some of these negative effects the overuse of technology has on our children and students. What can we do to stop this trend? Here are some ideas to get you started.
If you are a teacher, consider the ways you use technology in your classroom. Over the last couple decades, there has been a big push to incorporate more and more technology into the classroom. Most homework is completed on laptops or chromebooks. But traditional teaching methods are still valid and important. One of my high school students attends a school that only uses audiobooks for reading. I love audiobooks, but children and teenagers need to be exposed to print also. In a situation like this, the audiobook could be paired with a physical book for students to follow along as they listen.
As parents, it may be time to set some limits at home. If your child attends school, they now are likely spending a majority of their school day using technology. Allow them some time to unplug when they get home. One resource suggested setting up a smartphone contract with teenagers. Besides the overuse of technology, children can also be exposed to inappropriate things, often unintentionally, with unsupervised internet access. Do young children really need personal devices in their bedrooms? Make sure you know what your child is accessing. Better yet, use technology with them as a way to bond and spend time together.
Encourage your children or students to have difficult conversations in person, or at least on the phone if proximity is a barrier. Use role playing as a way to practice these scenarios and model ways to approach these challenging conversations. Although these situations are not fun at the moment, they will go a long way in developing children’s communication skills.
As uncomfortable as it may be, addressing a topic like this forces us to take a look at our own use of technology. If we want our children and students to have a positive and balanced relationship with technology, they need to see us do the same. I think we all could evaluate the amount of time we spend on our devices, and find ways to reduce that, or set aside specific time for checking our phone or responding to emails.
Your Take on Technology
We would love to hear your input on this topic. We especially want to know how you handle technology at your house or in your classroom. Do you have specific guidelines set up at your house regarding technology? How do you balance technology usage in your classroom?
With continuous new advancements, the use of technology is likely to become more and more widespread. Instead of trying to avoid it or not think about its impact, let’s be proactive!
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- Common Sense Media. “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013.” Common Sense Media, Accessed 21 November 2022. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/zero-to-eight-2013-infographic#
- Fodeman, Doug. “Children and Technology: Navigating Healthy Development.” Brookwood School, 14 November 2019. https://brookwood.edu/guidelines-for-parents-regarding-technology-and-children/
- Fodeman, Doug. “The Impact of Technology on Socialization and Communication Skills. Brookwood School, 8 January 2020. https://brookwood.edu/the-impact-of-technology-on-socialization-and-communication-skills/
- French, Maddy. “Technology May Have Negative Social Effect on Kids.” The Daily Universe, 12 April 2017. https://universe.byu.edu/2017/04/12/technology-may-have-negative-social-effect-on-kids/
- Kaiser Family Foundation. “Daily Media Use Among Children and Teens Up Dramatically From Five Years Ago.” Kaiser Family Foundation, 20 January 2010. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/press-release/daily-media-use-among-children-and-teens-up-dramatically-from-five-years-ago/
- National University. “The Negative Effects of Technology on Children.” National University, Accessed 21 November 2022. https://www.nu.edu/blog/negative-effects-of-technology-on-children-what-can-you-do/