While there are numerous benefits to using technology in everyday life and in the educational sphere, there are also some drawbacks and negative outcomes. One of the negative outcomes identified is the lack of social-emotional development among children and adolescents, and in particular, the lack of development of empathy, i.e. the ability to share someone else’s feeling.
Framing the challenge
There are many studies emerging that pay attention to the impact of technology on the developing brain and on social-emotional development. Much of that research suggests that there is a decline in the social-emotional skills of children and adolescents due to spending less time in face-to-face interactions and more time on technologically facilitated interactions. In a recent study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles on sixth-graders at one school, found that students who went five days without even glancing at a screen or using technological devices of any kind did substantially better at reading human emotions in facial cues than their peers at the same school who continued to spend hours a day looking at their electronic devices.
In the United Kingdom, a report in The Telegraph newspaper, citing statics from the Office for National Statistics, stated that children using technology for more than four hours a day do not have the same sense of social-emotional wellbeing as those that used technology for less than an hour a day. The report also adds that there is a strong possibility that less physical contact and direct interaction might impair children’s ability to develop social-emotional skills.
Small and Vorgan (2011) in discussing the impact of technology on empathy state that adolescents brains have become “wired” to use their tech gadgets due to a continuous use of technology, often exposing their brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. This is desensitizing their neural circuits to the horrors they see, while not getting much, if any, off-line training in empathic skills.
Addressing the challenge
As parents and educators, it is important that we are cognizant of the pitfalls and dangers of the negative impact of the use of technology on the social-emotional wellbeing of our children and our students.
DeLoatch (2015) advocates some common sense steps to follow in order to mitigate the negative impacts of technology. She recommends that parents and teachers should monitor the use of technology, teach responsible usage, be familiar with the technology being used by children and students, use classroom technology intentionally, and offer alternatives to technology in the classroom.
Steiner-Adair (2015) recommends that it is essential that we balance increased use of technology with stronger programs in social-emotional learning. She suggests that schools can reboot advisory systems, core curriculum, faculty training, and parent education. Schools should also regularly assess with all constituents the progress of technology integration, looking particularly to see if the technology is undermining school culture and, if so, find ways to strengthen school spirit.
Finally, Bonnette (2014) suggests using the technology itself to address the challenge by ensuring that adolescents and children are exposed to “empathy development” video games that put the player through virtual situations and challenges that build social-emotional capacity.
Bonnette, R. (2014). Rethinking Technology’s Impact on Empathy. Retrieved from http://www.luc.edu/media/lucedu/law/centers/childlaw/childed/pdfs/2014studentpapers/Bonnette.pdf
DeLoatch, P. (2015, May). The Four Negative Sides of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/the-4-negative-side-effects-of-technology/
Small, G., & Vorgan, G. (2011, February 18). Is the internet killing empathy? Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/02/18/small.vorgan.internet.empathy/
Steiner-Adair, C. (2015, December). The Big Disconnect: Your Student in Class vs. YourStudent Online. Retrieved from http://www.nais.org/Magazines-Newsletters/ISMagazine/Pages/Issues/The-Digital-Debate.aspx