Screen Time Doesn’t Hurt Kids’ Social Skills, Study Finds

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  • A new study found that despite the time spent on smartphones, today’s young people are as socially skilled as those of the previous generation.
  • Researchers compared teacher and parent evaluations of kids who entered kindergarten in 1998 (years before Facebook), with children who did so in 2010.
  • Even children within both groups who experienced the heaviest exposure to screens showed similar development in social skills compared to those with little exposure, according to the findings.

As pandemic quarantine continues, parents are running out of ways to keep children occupied. Tablets, phones, or computers are a quick solution.

But does allowing kids increased time online hurt their ability to interact with others after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted?

A new study from The Ohio State University finds that despite the time spent on smartphones and social media, today’s young people are as socially skilled as those of the previous generation.

Comparison of kids from 1998 and 2010

Researchers compared teacher and parent evaluations of kids who entered kindergarten in 1998 (years before Facebook), with children who did so in 2010.

For this study, they analyzed data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) program, which follows children from kindergarten to fifth grade.

The researchers compared information about the ECLS kindergarten group that included children who entered school in 1998 (19,150 students) with those that began in 2010 (13,400 students). Children were assessed by parents from kindergarten to first grade, and by teachers until fifth grade.

The study focused mostly on teacher evaluations, according to the study authors, because the children were followed until fifth grade.

2010 children scored slightly better for social skills

Findings indicate that, from the teachers’ perspective, student social skills didn’t decline between the 1998 and 2010 groups. Similar patterns persisted as the children progressed to fifth grade.

Even children within both groups who experienced the heaviest exposure to screens showed similar development in social skills compared to those with little exposure, according to the findings.

“Overall, we found very little evidence that the time spent on screens was hurting social skills for most children,” said Douglas Downey, PhD, lead author of the study and professor of sociology at The Ohio State University in a statement.

“There’s very little evidence that screen exposure was problematic for the growth of social skills,” he added.

Downey added that teachers’ evaluations of children’s interpersonal skills and self-control tended to be slightly higher for those in the 2010 cohort than those in the 1998 group.