Sometimes it boggles the mind when we think about how fast the world has advanced in the field of technology. From computers to cell phones to e-book readers and iPods, it seems everything we use today is powered through technology. As a result, a lot of familiar routines for adults are becoming passé, such as writing letters by hand, reading hard copies of newspapers, and frequenting the library.
So what impact is technology having on the lifestyles of children and teenagers — some of whom may never have been inside a post office or even seen a telephone booth? Some surprising Nielsen statistics show teenagers send and receive 3,705 text messages per month! Pre-teens are sending and receiving an average of 1,707 each month. It makes you wonder what happened to the days when kids simply called their friends to talk and parents put a limit on telephone time.
It’s a new day, and today’s social media tools are generating new concerns. There are not only safety issues associated with texting, using Facebook and other forms of social media, but there is also legitimate concern about the impact on kids’ social skills and their ability to have healthy relationships. Technology is fast replacing face-to-face experiences that are vitally important to the development of a child’s social skills. Human-to-human interaction is something they will need to use in the workplace, along with the human-to-machine interaction. A study by nationally-known psychologist Larry Rosen, Ph.D. and his colleagues compared real world empathy, online empathy and social support. They found there was a positive correlation between belonging to a social network, such as Facebook, and online empathy, but not with real world empathy. In other words — much like past research related to television and film — online experiences don’t translate into the same feelings when out in the real world.
Sure, technology has made our lives easier and the reality is that electronic communication is here to stay. It provides an efficient and important way to share information, make plans and keep up with friends in our “networks.” The eighteen and under generation is spending as much as four hours a day communicating with others via electronics. They clearly benefit from the connection, because studies show they feel a full range of emotions in this realm of screen messages. So rather than fight what is here to stay and what does offer some benefits, it makes good sense for parents to help kids learn to manage and apply the technology. The challenge is to keep them from getting “addicted” to their computers and cell phones. Make sure they spend quality, “electronic-free” time with family and friends, so they can experience the difference between an electronic connection and a personal connection. Both forms of communication are valuable, but nothing can ever truly replace spending “real” time with another person.