Ever wonder if the amount of screen time your kids get is affecting their social skills? A study shows that it may.
A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior showed that increased screen time may actually affect pre-teens’ ability to read and interpret people’s nonverbal emotional and social cues. For the study, nearly 50 sixth-graders left all digital devices behind before going on a trip to a nature camp for 5 days.
“The idea for this study came from looking at the way my older child and her friends’ older siblings were communicating,” said Yalda Uhls, the lead author of the study. “I’ve been at parties where the kids are all hanging out, but instead of looking at each other, they are staring at their phones.”
Once the kids arrived at the camp, they were given two tests to measure their ability to read nonverbal social cues. According to the Los Angeles Times, the kids were asked to assess the emotions portrayed in 48 photos of people making faces. The second test consisted of a video with the sound turned off, and the students judging what emotional state the actor was in.
After 5 days of no screens, the kids took the tests once more. They went from making an average of 14.02 errors on the face-recognition test at the beginning of their camp stay to 9.41 errors by the end. For the video component, they went from getting an average of 26% of the emotional states correct to 31%.
“Honestly, we were pretty surprised that just five days would have that effect,” said Uhls. “But we think this is good news because if indeed lack of face-to-face time is changing people’s ability to understand emotion, our results suggest you can disconnect for five days and get better.”
The same tests were given to a group of 54 sixth-graders who had not been to the camp yet. They had digital devices with them as usual. That group had an average of 12.24 mistakes the first time they took the face-recognition test and 9.81 mistakes when they took it again five days later. For the video test, the students’ scores stayed flat, getting an average of 28% of the emotions correct both times they were tested.
The Conclusion? Balance
Uhls noted that the end results both with the kids who attended the camp and those who hadn’t weren’t that much different.
“But even though the kids ended up in the same place, they started at different places, so the change is what we are really looking at. The main thing I hope people take away from this is that it is really important for children to have time for face-to-face socializing. I love media, my kids are media-savvy, but it is really important to have a balance.”