How Using Cell Phones and Social Media Affect Developing Social Skills in Kids
Increasing use of smart phones and social media are changing the way kids develop social skills. Technology decreases the amount of face to face interaction and increases the amount of communication done from behind a screen. There are pros and cons to this. Technology allows kids to connect with others all over the country and even world, exposing them to a much wider variety of media, culture, and beliefs than what may be present within the microcosm of their own school or neighborhood. Now, social skill development must include comprehension of virtual social cues, such as the idiosyncrasies of emojis in texts or the implied meaning behind a gif or meme. Building social skills of any kids, whether in person or electronic, is pertinent to a child’s self worth; being able to engage effectively with peers directly correlates to positive self-esteem.
However, social media can be dangerous when a child is placing too much value on the number of “likes” they receive on a post. Middle school especially is a crucial transitional age where kids are relying less on approval from parents and more on approval from peers. Nowadays peer validation can be quantified via the number of likes, comments, and shares a child receives on their posts. Popularity is measured by the amount of followers on a social media handle. Interacting in this way socially can become addicting, because the reward center in the brain releases feel-good chemicals when a child receives a notification of another “like”, thus reinforcing the repetition of social media posting behaviors. Throw in the privacy of DMs and Snapchat, and sexting then becomes a risk, as kids must push the limits of their posting to receive more validation, especially in the form of attention from the opposite sex (or a crush in general).
Because kids are so attached to their smartphones, loss of phone privileges is becoming the preferred method of discipline for parents. Sudden loss of this major source of validation and social interaction can be detrimental to a child and even elicit feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-worth. Even with privileges restored these feeling can occur when heavy filtering and photo manipulation portrays unrealistic expectations of beauty. Kids also compare themselves to their peers and often perceive themselves as living a less exciting or even boring life, not realizing others are only posting the climatic parts of their life, rather than the mundane. All this pressure to “perform” virtually, and we haven’t even mentioned cyber bullying!
Early smart phone use needs to be controlled in order to help a child establish healthy boundaries with technology. Parents can:
-set parental controls and passwords
-limit screen time to a certain amount of time per day
-encourage breaks from technology to go outside
-approve and monitor use of apps
-talk about the unrealistic standards of appearance portrayed by social media influencers
-engage their child in physical or hands-on outlets to learn proficiency in a skill set to increase self-esteem
-require completion of homework or chores prior to social media use
-ban smartphones from the dinner table
-require family members turn in their smartphones to a designated charging station every night before bed
-model healthy smartphone boundaries–practice what you preach!