We hear a lot about the importance of making sure our kids don’t watch too much television. Just two hours a day – far less than many children routinely watch – has been shown to damage the acquisition of social skills.
But did you know that spending too much time at the computer can have a similar effect? Online activities can be useful for developing conversational abilities, especially in older children, but they can result in other areas of mental and emotional growth being underdeveloped.
If you have a child who shows signs of social learning difficulties or trouble understanding other people’s emotions, it may be time to think about limiting your child’s online activities. Talking at a computer is no substitute for talking face to face, especially in children, as they need direct personal interaction in order to learn how to identify other people’s moods.
This also helps them to recognise that other people have an emotional and intellectual existence entirely separate from their own, something which we don’t know when we’re born and which it can take us a number of years to fully comprehend.
This is important as they learn why it’s important to treat other people with respect. An online environment, where other people don’t seem so real, can inadvertently teach them to be dismissive of others’ feelings.
Lots of time online where information is available at the press of a button and the view is always changing can also lower children’s’ attention spans so that they struggle to concentrate at school.The easy availability of attention on demand from other internet users can leave them frustrated when they fail to get that level of attention in real life.
Going online is not inherently bad for children and it can have a lot of advantages, but when it becomes their primary means of social interaction the absence of other contact can leave them with long term problems. If your child has difficulty communicating face to face, it may be time to think about restricting their online activities.