Could Electronics Damage Your Teen's Emotional Intelligence?

Digital devices can harm a teen's emotional intelligence
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Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend over 7 ½ hours a day using media outside of school, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Laptops, game consoles, smartphones and TVs provide constant entertainment in almost any environment.

For many teens, face-to-face communication has been largely replaced by text messages and social media. You don’t have to look very far to witness this phenomenon first-hand.

Look around at any restaurant, sporting event, or community activity and you’ll likely see teens—and often adults—opting to use digital devices over interacting with those around them.

Research shows that all that technology use may be taking a toll. Exchanging emoticons, rather than facial expressions could be harming your teen’s social skills.

Study Shows Technology Reduces Teens’ Ability to Read Emotions

Reading other people’s emotions is a vital social skill that enables teens to recognize how someone else is feeling. Understanding emotional cues gives teens the ability to recognize when someone is annoyed, bored, or upset.

Many emotions are conveyed nonverbally. A person’s facial expressions and body posture are just a few of the ways a listener can gain insight into how someone is feeling.

Teens who have their faces buried behind screens may be damaging their ability to recognize nonverbal emotional cues, according to a study conducted by researchers at UCLA.

Researchers asked 11 to 13 year olds to identify the emotional expressions of others. Then, half the group was sent to an outdoor camp for five days without access to technology. The other participants continued with their normal screen time.

After five days without technology, participants’ ability to read other people’s emotions improved, compared to the participants who continued using their digital devices.

Researchers concluded that the campers’ face-to-face interactions over the course of five days improved their ability to recognize social cues.

Sharpen Your Teen’s Social Skills

Although the study shows just how damaging technology can be to a teen’s social skills, the good news a short break from digital devices can prove very useful. Here are some steps you can take to sharpen your teen’s social skills in the digital era:

  • 1. Limit your teen’s screen time. Most experts recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day, but smartphones make time limits a little more complicated. Establish clear limits on TV, laptops, and games. And speak up when you see your teen’s nose buried in a smartphone for an extended period of time.
  • 2. Establish technology-free days. The study showed how just a few days away from technology can make a big difference to a teen’s emotional intelligence. While you may not want to go a whole week without technology, unplugging for a day at a time could prove helpful. Choose to make Saturdays technology-free or turn off your internet during school vacations.
  • 3. Be a good role model. If you’re always on your phone or your laptop—even if it’s for work-related purposes—you’ll send the wrong message to your teen. Be a good role model by limiting your screen time as well.
  • 4. Create clear rules with technology. Most teens aren’t able to handle free reign with their digital devices, so it’s important to establish rules that will help your teen establish healthy practices. For example, don’t allow your teen to sleep near a smartphone.
  • 5. Get your teen involved in a variety of social activities. Turning off electronics is only half the battle. Teens also need face-to-face interaction to practice their social skills. Encourage your teen to participate in a variety of sports, clubs, and community activities that involve social interaction.

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