One will not often find an interaction with another where at some point during the contact there will be the now familiar ringing, buzzing, chiming or some melodic sound coming from a smartphone. Once tools, these devices have replaced “Best Friends” and “Group Friends”, as the children of today measure their “friend circle” by how many contacts they have on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat or Insta-gram. However in many instances, there is no human contact with many of these people now referred to as “Friends.” Studies are being done throughout the medical community in an attempt to identify if there is a correlation between the use of these tools and social and emotional development.
Children appear to be losing the ability to talk to one another verbally, as the screen and keyboard have replaced audible and in some instances written communication. Long gone are the days of summer “Pen Pals” or writing a thoughtful note to a relative or friend. These have been replaced by text messages and electronic mail.
Social disconnection becoming a social norm
Researchers at Concordia University in Irvine, Calif., concluded that children born since 1990 have almost 80 percent fewer instances of social interaction in elementary school than previous generations (Hillman, 2014). 80%! While children are in school, they are developing both social and academic skills. If these studies are accurate, appropriate communication both verbally and non verbally will likely suffer in both the short and long term.
It appears as though these devices may also be depriving children of understanding the visual emotions of one another. A 2014 study at University of California Los Angeles selected two groups of 11 and 12 year olds. One group had zero screen time, including television for five days and the other group were allowed to text and tweet normally. The results indicated that the children deprived of electronic screen time showed significantly better abilities to identify with emotions than those using their electronic devices (Kellogg, 2014).
Closer to Home – Local Campground Prohibits Electronics While Child Connects With One Another and Nature
One of the author’s children attends a summer camp each year for two weeks in Napoleon, MI where electronics are strictly prohibited. Based on this, he contacted the camp to discuss their electronic free requirement . When asked the question, “what challenges does the camp face when it comes to running an electronic free facility?” Associate Executive Director of Storer Camps, Brian Frawley said, “we try to teach the campers that technology is not the main focus of camping.” He went on to say that presently there are numerous debates and studies being performed surrounding this topic. Much to his chagrin, he feels it won’t be long before camps are using electronics as a marketing tool offering free wi-fi to their campers. When asked, “Tell me about the camp counselors of today, say the 18-20 year old new hire.” Frawley chuckled and said, “they absolutely lack social skills that the older camp counselors possess.”
In addition to Frawley, the author interviewed a Senior Camp Counselor, Brett Winslow, from this same facility who interacts with the guests every day. Winslow has been involved with the camp for 15 years, 11 as a camper and 4 as a counselor and similar to Frawley, has noted the differences in socialization of incoming summer campers. When asked, how do the children act being without their “best friends” (their smart phones)? Winslow laughed and said, “It is most evident in the first time campers. As a counselor, you can almost immediately identify them, as they have the most trouble connecting and interacting with their peers.” He went on to say, which the author found quite interesting, “But, it’s almost as though the experienced kids can see this isolative behavior as well. Within a couple days, they reach out to those who are not interacting and, should they choose, involve them in group activities. It’s really neat to see the transition for both the new campers and the leadership of the experienced ones.” Does this provide a ray of hope that as consumed as this generation has become with these electronic gadgets, when removed, most can revert back to age old socialization behavior?
When is the right time?
This issue is not limited to school age children and above. Boston University has raised questions surrounding this topic of children as young as 1-3 (toddler age) and completed a study. One scientist asked, of parents using electronic devices to pacify children, “If these devices become the predominant method to calm and distract young children, will they be able to develop their own internal mechanisms of self-regulation?”(Walters, 2015). Additionally, Timothy Cavell, a Psychologist at the University of Arkansas states, “Parents who use phones and iPads as a substitute for their own interactions (with their children) are compromising the development of the attention center of the brain” (Bowden, 2013). Long established techniques of raising children are being abandoned as the results of traditional discipline are not immediately apparent whereas the effects of the tablet or phone are immediate, but in most cases the desired behavior will not be sustained.
When is the right time to introduce electronics to children? As stated in Essentials of Pediatric Nursing, establishment of relationships happens very early on in life where children learn to solve problems associated with relationships. Children learn to give and take, which is more difficult from competitive peers as compared to tolerant adults. They learn the sex role society expects them to fulfill and the approved patterns of behavior. The development of moral values and ethics are closely associated with socialization. Finally, children learn right from wrong, the standard expectations of society and assume responsibility for their actions during these interactions. (In Hockenberry, Wong, & Whaley, 2005, p. 94)
There are many parts of the brain associated with attention to include the Frontal Lobe and the Cerebellum. The Thalamus, a portion of the Limbic system, is located in the center of the brain and plays a critical role with attention span and pain. It likely plays an important role in learning by helping us to direct out attention and to place importance on the right stimulus, thereby being more likely to retain that information (Hillman, 2014).
Cognitive Developmental perspective
Recalling Piaget’s theory, he believed that intelligence was not a fixed trait. Moreover, he pioneered the theory that biological maturation and environmental interactions were the contributing factors toward cognitive development. Conversely, Lev Vygotsky socioculture theory was that important learning occurred from social interactions from a skilled tutor (McLeod, 2014). There are countless resources available at the user’s fingertips, but one has to wonder if these devices are able to be substituted for teachers/tutors?
Education or Entertainment – Risk vs Benefit
With access to the internet, there are countless resources available for education and learning. However, in the case of children, often times the device is used more as a source of entertainment, which can distract and take away from learning. Throughout history, humans have not had a need to be entertained at all times – are these devices taking away this generation’s ability to identify with boredom and more importantly, how to cope with it?
The Good, The Bad and The Mystery
That is not to say that technology and smart phones do not have countless benefits. From being a super computer at one’s fingertips to finding a long lost relative across the globe. Also, who could forget the instantaneous gratification they provide by keeping us all up to date on most anything we wish to inquire about? It is easy to see why these tools have become so addictive and integral in the lives of most. The question is, if the world were to lose its ability to produce enough energy to power these devices – what cost will it be to society when the generations raised on technology cannot Google how to build a fire, cook without a microwave, identify which direction is North or assemble a shelter to keep themselves safe? Which brings us back to the original question; Has technology become a basic human need?
Bowden, W. (2013, December 12). Smartphones bad for children’s social skills? Retrieved March 26, 2017, from http://razorbackreporter.uark.edu/2013/12/smartphones-bad-for-childrens-social-skills/
Hillman, K. (2014, November 17). A List of Brain Areas and What They Do | psychology24.org. Retrieved March 26, 2017, from
In Hockenberry, M. J., Wong, D. L., & Whaley, L. F. (2005). Developmental Influences on Child Health Promotion. In Wong’s essentials of pediatric nursing (7th ed., p. 94). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Kellogg, B. (2014, August 27). Study: Smartphones stunting students’ social skills | EAGnews.org. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from http://eagnews.org/study-smartphones-stunting-students-social-skills/
McLeod, S. (2014). Vygotsky | Simply Psychology. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html
Walters, J. (2015, February 2). Tablets and smartphones may affect social and emotional development, scientists speculate | Technology | The Guardian. Retrieved March 24, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/01/toddler-brains-research-smartphones-damage-social-development