The amount of time children spend on tablets, smartphones and computers is a contentious topic. Will an increased exposure to technology result in decreased social skills compared to previous generations?
The research found that the social skills of kids in 2010 were similar to those in 1998.
According to Healthline, researchers analysed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) program, “which follows children from kindergarten to fifth grade.”
The study compared the teacher evaluations of 19,150 students who started school in 1998 to 13,400 students who entered school in 2010. The data showed that even those who had large amounts of screen time “showed similar development in social skills compared to those with little exposure.”
“Overall, we found very little evidence that the time spent on screens was hurting social skills for most children,” Douglas Downey, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University said in a statement.
“In virtually every comparison we made, either social skills stayed the same or actually went up modestly for the children born later.”
In fact, the kids’ who started school in 2010 scored higher in some areas.
“Teachers’ evaluations of children’s interpersonal skills and self-control tended to be slightly higher for those in the 2010 cohort than those in the 1998 group,” Downey said.
While these findings were overwhelmingly positive, there was one small exception. Children who accessed online gaming and social media sites multiple times a day were found to have slightly lower social skills.
“But even that was a pretty small effect,” Downey said.
“There’s very little evidence that screen exposure was problematic for the growth of social skills.”
While these results might be surprising, Downey noted that the element of moral panic among the older generation is common.
“There is a tendency for every generation at my age to start to have concerns about the younger generation. It is an old story,” he said.
“The introduction of telephones, automobiles, radio all led to moral panic among adults of the time because the technology allowed children to enjoy more autonomy,” he said.
“Fears over screen-based technology likely represent the most recent panic in response to technological change.”
If anything, Downey pinpointed how technology is allowing younger generations to foster relationships and communicate successfully with others.
“You have to know how to communicate by email, on Facebook and Twitter, as well as face-to-face. We just looked at face-to-face social skills in this study, but future studies should look at digital social skills as well.”