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Are You Talking To Me? The Lost Art of Conversation in a Digital World

Posted by Susan Sloop - Parenting

The average person, adults included, unlocks their cell phone more than 100 times a day to check email, answer texts, engage in social media and sometimes even call someone. There is a direct link between technology and social skills. What effect does digital media have on the ability to communicate face-to-face? Researchers are doing various research studies to answer this question.

One such study involved two groups of sixth grade students in California. Half of the students were sent to an outdoor adventure camp with no televisions or digital media for a week. The other half spent the week at home ….waiting to attend the following week…… and had no interruptions in their screen time. Both sets were given photos of people showing emotions such as anger and sadness as well as videos of people displaying these emotions while interacting with each other. The tests were conducted before and after the week. The results revealed their ability to recognize important non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and gestures in conversations, often referred to as social cues.

Here is what they discovered:



The ability to recognize important non-verbal communication cues was significantly higher after spending a week away from their digital devices.


There was no change in the ability to recognize non-verbal communication cues after spending a week with normal use of their digital devices.











Researchers have suspected the cost of having digital data continually at our fingertips. A study out of UCLA reveals that they might be right. UCLA Psychology Professor, Patricia M. Greenfield stated that "decreased sensitivity toemotional cues is one of the costs….. understanding the emotions of other people. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills". Yalanda T. Uhls, a senior researcher with The Children's Digital Media Center agrees, "You can't learn non-verbal emotional cues from a screen the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication". Uhls stressed the importance of monitoring the time spent interacting with friends via social media and "face time" for young people.

Tamyra Pierce is a journalism professor at California State University in Fresno, California who started noticing a relationship between technology and increased social anxiety. "Now young people can't look you in the eye, they get antsy talking to you in person," she said. In 2009, Pierce decided to conduct a study to test the impact technology had on social skills. She asked teenagers the frequency at which they utilized "socially interactive technologies" such as texts and then conducted an assessment to see how comfortable they were communicating in person. Pierce discovered that the more time students spent communicating via online methods the more likely they were to have difficulty communicating face-to-face. Interestingly, female teenagers showed much more anxiety than their male peers. She went on to say that we have to give options and balance with their devices. "We can't lose the social skills, we can't lose the technology – we have to have both. We have to get back to that balance."

As a parent there are a few things you can do to encourage your children to achieve that balance and become actively engaged in the world around them.

  • Monitor you own screen habits to set a good example.
  • Encourage your child to participate in activities that involve socializing.
  • Talk about setting limits and why it is important.
  • Create rules on screen time together, such as no texting or watching TV during mealtimes.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to involve everyone in the discussion. Reinforce the benefits of reducing the amount of time spent in front of a screen and quality time with friends and family. It may take some getting used to but it is safe to say it will be well worth the effort!



Ossola, Alexandra. "A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom." The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

2. Ehmke, Rachel. "Get Informed." Teens and Social Media. Child Mind Institute. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

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