The other night, I informed my 9-year-old daughter that her 15 minutes of Minecraft were up. It didn’t go well. It never does. I was met with a series of animal noises: first, grunts when I told her it was time to wind it down, then a snarl, and finally, squawks of protest as I removed the gizmo from her clutching hands. What happened to my normally chatty, lively child?
There’s no doubt that technology has made our lives easier, more informative, and a lot more fun. But emerging research shows that it can also erode our kids’ social and life skills—and that includes pretty important stuff like showing courtesy and empathy, making conversation, handling conflict, and amusing yourself on your own.
Like it or not, technology is ever-present in your child’s life: A new Pew Research survey found that a full 95 percent of teens now have access to a smartphone—a staggering 22 percent increase from the 73 percent of teens who said this in Pew’s last report in 2015. Nearly half of those same teens said they use the internet “almost constantly.”
They weren’t kidding. A 2015 report from Common Sense Media found that teens spent an average of nine hours a day online, while kids aged 8 to 12 logged in six hours daily. Even children between 0 and 8 spent an average of 50 minutes a day in front of a screen.
But face-to-face time is a crucial part of a child’s socialization process, says Jennifer Hope, PhD, a psychologist in Brooklyn, New York. “When they spend too much time on screens and not enough time engaging with other people, they become accustomed to immediate gratification, endless stimulation, winning, and controlling all aspects of their environment,” she says. The result can be poor cooperation skills, distractibility, and a low tolerance for frustration or boredom that results in meltdowns.
Fortunately, parents have the power to keep their kids on the right path. Here’s how.