Question: I have two children: a daughter 11- years- old and a son 13- years-old. Our 13- year- old has a cell phone and is constantly checking it and texting his friends. Now my daughter wants a cell phone, too. She uses her computer and instant messages her friends. Is all this technology going to affect my kids in some way? Dr. Andie: The rules of social engagement have changed over the last few years and in my opinion the role of technology in our society is a major factor for this. Think about it. It’s only been a relatively short few years that texting has become the mode of choice for communicating.
I recently read the latest statistics on youth and texting. The average youth does 100 texts a day (girls slightly more than boys) adding up to 3,000 a month with only 230 actual phone calls. Children today aren’t “speaking” they are “wording”! You ask the question if texting, IMing and other outgrowths of technology can affect children of today. The answer is yes. Today’s generations born into this techno surge can easily adapt to all of these new technologies but many neuroscientists and social scientists are beginning to feel that it can alter our brain functions.
Our brains are wired for social interactions and without even thinking about it, we pick up on tone of voice, facial expressions, and body movements that give us cues on how to respond to others. Without face-to-face contact, we miss out on this important information in knowing how to communicate effectively. You know that old adage of “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. Our brains are sensitive to repetitive behaviors and if some of them are no longer used, our brains “prune” them out.
Parent: It sounds like these cell phones kids are using aren’t really helping them communicate better even though it allows them get in touch with people quicker. Dr. Andie: You are absolutely correct. Cell phones and computers do allow us to communicate faster which doesn’t necessarily mean that we are communicating more effectively. One of the aspects of texting is that it involves using many three- word abbreviations in messages or IMs, which can lead to miscommunication. It also is difficult to gauge the real emotion being expressed in such a short format. Text messaging is also so impersonal.
Parent: So what do I do about my kids using their cell phones and computers? It seems that it’s the way that most people use to communicate with each now. Dr. Andie: Look, technology is going not away and most likely it will only get faster and more sophisticated. However, there are a few things that you as a parent can do that can counter act the effects of computer and cell phone communicating: Create opportunities that give children a break from being tethered to this type of technology – On family outings or vacations, put a moratorium on cell phone and computer usage.
This means that parents have also put their Blackberry’s and smart phones to rest also. Parents set the tone, so if you are constantly checking your messages, it gives the impression that this kind of behavior is ok. By doing this, you are giving your children a chance to interact socially, speaking and listening, with one another as a family unit. It adds balance to this techno world that consumes us all. Limit the amount of time children can use their computers – Unless the children are using their computers for homework, there is no reason that you can’t limit the amount of time they are using the computer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a maximum of 2 hours of screen time a day whether it’s the TV or the computer. Also keep the computer in a common space so you can monitor the amount of time they are on the computer. There are even computer software programs that you can purchase that will set the limits for computer usage. Encourage children using cell phones to “speak” to one another and to limit constant texting – Children don’t have any idea that every time they send a text message it costs money. Every mobile phone ompany has packages for this and they entice you with their unlimited texting feature. Get the package that has the least amount that way there is a limit for the amount of text messages to still encourage “speaking” rather than “wording”. And now with some smartphones, computers, and IPads, there is a way for video chatting that can incorporate facial and voice intonations that are important for learning cues for social and communicating skills. I actually like this type of technology since it’s almost like face-to-face communication but with a cyber twist!
Remember the goal is get our children socially smart and to give them those skills that will help them relate to others now and for the rest of their lives. If children are taught those important social and emotional skills, it is the best antidote to counter any effects that technology can ever have over our children. Parent: Well, I really appreciate your perspective on this. I guess I never thought about the social and emotional implications of all of this new technology. Thanks so much! Dr. Andie: My pleasure!!