Since computers starting coming into the home and video games left the arcade, parents have expressed concerns about how much is too much and how these virtual interfaces will impact the lives of our children over the long term. For years, the main concerns around overuse of electronic media have centered on physical activity levels, studying, and the effect of violent, sexist, and racist themes on young minds. Recently I was asked my thoughts on the impact things like Facebook, Twitter, and video games are having on today’s youth. My answers might surprise you.
One of the main problems that I see is an increase in teens and young adults with significant social anxiety problems that seem to stem from spending too much time interacting with a computer and not enough time interacting with actual people. I call this “Social Phobia.” This is especially pertinent for teens that are in the 12 to 15 year old range that are actively developing and refining the social skills that will help them throughout their lives. The more time a child spends in isolation posting on Facebook, playing Xbox, chatting online, texting, and watching YouTube videos, the less time they spend interacting with their peers and families. These real-world interactions are necessary for developing social skills, understanding social protocols, and building interpersonal relationships.
What Parents Should Look For
- Parents should trust their instincts and if they are concerned there might be a problem, seek the opinion of a professional.
- Parents also need to make the distinction between what is normal behavior and what is healthy behavior. Your son might spend 12 hours a day playing video games which seems normal when compared to his friends, but most health professionals would agree that even if it is normal, 12 hours of video game play in a day is definitely not healthy.
- Watch for resistance to social situations and avoidance of social interactions. If your child is having a significant emotional response to a situation that requires social interaction, there may be a social problem that needs to be addressed.
What Parents Can Do
- The most important step parents can take is to start young. Set expectations and ground rules about media use early in childhood which will help your child develop good habits as they grow into teenagers.
- Provide multiple social outlet opportunities for your children through church, community, sports, and educational activities. But, beware of over-scheduling, children need downtime too.
- Don’t accommodate their anxiety; it’s ok for them to be uncomfortable in social situations because they are learning how to manage those types of interactions. Giving in and allowing them to avoid socializing only reinforces the avoidance behaviors.