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Smartphones Stunt Social Growth in Pre-Teens

Five days of camping without using technology improved the social skills of sixth graders, the UCLA study revealed. 

| BY Kent McDill

Mobile technology is killing the social skills of young Americans, and a new study is proving it.

The University of California Los Angeles psychology department has completed a study of 100 11- and 12-year-olds to determine how smartphone usage affects a child’s ability to understand social cues. What the study revealed is that the usage of mobile devices prevents children from learning how to read the emotions of others.

In the study, the UCLA researchers separated 100 sixth-graders into two groups, and tested them for reading emotional signals from photographs prior to the research. They then took half the group to a nature and science camp, where they lived for five days with no digital or electronic influences at all. Immediately after the five days, all 100 students were again tested, and the camp group showed a vast improvement in reading emotions shown in photographs.

The 50 students who were allowed to live their lives normally showed no improvement, as was expected.

“Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,’’ said Patricia Greenfield, the senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues – losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people – is one of the costs.”

“You can’t learn nonverbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,’’ lead author Yalda Uhls said. “If you’re not practicing face-to-face communication, you could be losing important social skills.”

A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that as of 2009, 22 percent of teens visit their favorite social media sites more than 10 times a day, and half go their favorite social media site more than once a day. Those numbers have surely increased since that study was completed.

According to the AAP, there are positive effects for children from social media usage, including engaging in community activities, finding people with shared interests, and the ability to display creativity through the use of video and shared influences. The negatives include impatience in relationships due to the instantaneous nature of social media, mistaking social media relationships for real ones and not putting the time into a real relationships because of the time spent on casual relationships on social media.



About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.