Technology & Kids

By Laura Grashow Psy.D, Licensed Psychologist

Breaking up through e-mail? It sounds like a “Fine with me” situation! This is the phrase that precipitated the break up of a couple I was working with several years ago. It was written in an email and the reader perceived it as dripping with anger, sarcasm and resentment. That was it! He was not going to be controlled or manipulated by his girlfriend anymore! He would do what he wanted and not be guilted into spending time with her! Who ever imagined that an emoticon could help save a relationship! At least he would have seen the smile that his then girlfriend had intended; and likely reacted differently.

While these new modes of techno-talk are convenient and possible to use all while doing several other things, so much interpersonal information is missing from email, text, or IM contact. Actual, face to face communication with a real live human being requires that we focus our energies and attention to navigate all of that information and emotion. It requires us to engage fully lest we come off as space cadets, or worse even, rude. Our brains and bodies alike are processing and reacting to all this information and emotion in real time; no small task-one of the major tasks, in fact, of childhood.

While some children - those with developmental disability or communication disorders for example, typically demonstrate weaknesses in the area of socializing, all children are busy learning the rules of the social game out there in the playground jungles everyday. In our world however, as more and more children are relating to each other more often in cyber-jungles, they may be missing out on the practice needed to learn how to interpret and respond to the multitude of cues given during live interaction. This is especially true during adolescence when the intense need to “hang out” with peers provides the forum to do just this. The old image of the popular kid includes being surrounded by numerous friends and admirers. These days you can spot a popular teen by how fast their fingers move over their cell phone keyboards!

While I’m not suggesting that texting and IMing per se are the sole culprits of poor social skill, I would venture to say that habitual texting and IMing to the exclusion of face to face or even voice to voice interaction could very possibly stunt the healthy development of social skill. When the immediacy and intimacy are sucked out of a conversation by sending terse little texts there is less opportunity to practice with all the components of face to face interaction, such as skillfully using and accurately reading facial expression, tone of voice, and body language.

Techno-talk breaks live face to face contact down into some of its component parts- making it easier to deal with for some, by buying us more time, or just simply helping kids who tend to be more anxious about socializing. In that sense techno-talk could serve as a facilitator of interaction- but only if kids are graduating to the real thing. Otherwise it becomes an obstacle- and, like most parents would probably say, “that is not ‘fine with me’”!

Laura Grashow Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who has been working with children, adolescents and families for over 15 years. She specializes in relationship issues, parenting, divorce, and child development. For more information, see Laura's Web site.

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