Excessive GadgetUseStunting Children's Social Skills, Experts Warn

Clinical psychologist Stephen Nowicki warns that excessive screen time and social media use are eroding children's social skills, including nonverbal communication. Experts recommend limiting screen time and promoting activities that teach facial expressions and body language to develop healthy relationships.

Ayesha Mumtaz
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Excessive GadgetUseStunting Children's Social Skills, Experts Warn

Excessive GadgetUseStunting Children's Social Skills, Experts Warn

As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in our lives, experts are sounding the alarm about the negative effects of excessive gadget use on children's development. Clinical psychologist Stephen Nowicki from Emory University has dedicated his career to helping children develop healthy relationships, but he's concerned that the rise in screen time and social media use is eroding essential social skills, such as nonverbal communication.

The decline in social skills among children can have long-term consequences on their mental health, relationships, and academic performance. If left unaddressed, this trend could lead to a generation struggling with social anxiety, depression, and difficulty forming meaningful connections.

In his new book, "Raising a Socially Successful Child," Nowicki addresses the decline in crucial skills for developing and sustaining positive relationships. He notes that 10% of children demonstrate "dyssemia," a term he coined with colleague Marshall P. Duke, meaning they are unable to translate nonverbal cues, leading to social and academic difficulties. "This is a set of skills that kids need to have; they need to learn this language of nonverbal communication,"Nowicki emphasizes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, with school closings and remote classes preventing face-to-face interactions and stunting the natural rhythm of conversations. "I think our children are much more damaged socially than people realize," Nowicki warns. Children who struggle with nonverbal skills are more likely to become depressed and anxious.

Why this matters: Research from the Mayo Clinic highlights additional risks associated with excessive screen time, including obesity, disrupted sleep, behavioural issues, poor academic performance, exposure to violence, and a significant reduction in playtime. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time to 1-2 hours daily for children over 2 years old. However, American children now spend an average of 4.4 hours per day looking at screens, a significant increase of 1.75 hours since the pandemic.

Some parents are taking proactive steps to promote healthy habits. Armando Hart from Long Beach, California,shares, give child, books, instead, smartphonea viral TikTok video showing his 10-year-old son Raya reading a book in the car, viewed over 8 million times. Hart and his wife started reading to Raya every night before bedtime, instilling a love for books. Hart believes reading is essential for balance, prioritizing meaningful experiences and hands-on learning.

Experts suggest parents can help children develop nonverbal skills by discussing facial expressions and body language. Schools can provide remediation programs to teach these vital communication skills. Theater or improv classes can also help children learn the importance of facial expressions and nonverbal cues. As Nowicki notes,"As much as this was a problem when I wrote the first book, it is worse now because of social media. "Addressing the deeper issues affecting youth's mental and emotional health, rather than solely attributing them to screen time, is crucial for fostering a generation with strong social skills and healthy relationships.

Key Takeaways

  • Excessive gadget use erodes children's social skills, including nonverbal communication.
  • Decline in social skills can lead to social anxiety, depression, and poor relationships.
  • 10% of children demonstrate "dyssemia," struggling to translate nonverbal cues.
  • Limit screen time to 1-2 hours daily for children over 2 years old, recommends AAP.
  • Parents can promote healthy habits by discussing facial expressions, reading, and hands-on learning.