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Reflections On New Technologies And Kids’ Social Behavior

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

As a professional and a parent, I’ve had a chance to observe over the last year or so the impact of “new” technologies – like texting, social media, and Skype – on kids’ social behavior. And, a bit to my surprise, I don’t see it having either a definitive positive or negative effect – rather there are just some upsides, and some downsides. My focus is particularly on the tween years.

First, the upsides. Some of the tools (Skype for one) seems to promote more cohesive group interaction, especially amongst school friends who don’t live near each other. It’s certainly it’s own thing, but from what I see it’s a pretty positive thing, especially because it seems to be more inclusive than what you might see in terms of face to face interaction (more kids and broader networks seem to be formed or at least tolerated). I’d go so far as to say it promotes a certain type of social cohesion. For the most part, I think texting also provides a certain connectivity that is proactive. And I’m finding that there is an openness about all this – almost like a chain reaction of disclosure from one kid to another via texting. And from my vantage point, a lot of what goes on is just positive, age-appropriate goofing around and having fun.

Now, there are of course some downsides for some kids. Use can be excessive. Electronics need to be shut off when it’s time to study. When there are social issues happening (“drama”), the texting can be overwhelming. All that said, I’m not seeing anything happening though that doesn’t happen in face to face interaction. Perhaps the biggest thing is reacting in heated moments which wouldn’t have been possible in prior years (outside of making a phone call). I’m sure there are more caustic and undermining things that go on for some kids, and we’ve all heard about cyberbullying. But overall, I think these kinds of things are the exception, rather than the rule.

So while there are nuances to how these technologies alter kids’ social behavioral repertoire, the big picture for me is that they are just new tools for kids to be kids like they have always been.

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