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How Technology Lowers Emotional Intelligence in Kids

Have we raised a generation that relates better to screens than human beings?

I am defining technology is any external mechanism that disrupts your kid’s ability to be present with his or her thoughts and feelings, and attuned to others. That includes any device that draws your kid’s attention away from the moment—such as ear buds, smart phones, laptops—and dulls his or her senses to the world and the people in it.

Out of Touch and Out of Sync

Recently, I watched an entire family in a restaurant eat dinner in stony silence, as each member glared intently at smartphones. In fact, most of the children in the restaurant were eyeballing some kind of screen. One teenager, chatting on her cell phone, shoved her way out of the restaurant, nearly knocked over an elderly couple.

Basic human interactions—thoughtfulness, kindness, courtesy—were completely absent among the youth. Worse, their parents supported their behavior by modeling their own insensitive tech dependent behaviors.

Plugged Into Technology, and Unplugged From the World

The ability to dissociate from a stressful environment can be helpful. For example, listening to music can release stress by allowing you to take a break and escape a difficult moment. There are also apps designed to boost mindfulness and reduce anxiety through guided meditations or relaxation exercises.

The trouble begins when interacting with technology starts to take priority over engaging in meaningful communication. As tech dependence increases, kids move through the world in a narcissistic bubble, divorced from their own thoughts and feelings, and the thoughts and feelings of others. As conversation skills and positive interactions crumble, technology even starts to warp kids’ sense of humanity; they are less compassionate and sensitive to others.

The Rise of Technology and the Fall of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence, defines emotional intelligence as the ability to identify one’s own feelings and the feelings of others. He notes that people with high degrees of E.I. have healthier relationships, adapt better to environments, and they are more skilled at working toward their goals.

Dr. Goleman identifies five key qualities that foster emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation.

What do these qualities all have in common? Pay a visit to your local kindergarten and chances are you’ll find these qualities absent among most children, particularly during playtime. To develop these qualities, teachers and parents strive to foster mindfulness and thoughtful attentiveness to others. In this way, children develop emotional intelligence by becoming better attuned to the world around them and the people in it.

Let’s see how tech dependence negatively impacts Dr. Coleman’s essentials of emotional intelligence:

Technology Dependence:

1. Undermines Self-awareness

More time on technology means less time with your own thoughts and feelings, the beating heart of mindfulness. As tech dependency increases, kids live in a state of self-alienation, estranged from their emotional selves, disabling self-awareness and self-reflection. Instead of thoughtful choices, they grow more reactive and less reflective.

2. Weakens Self-regulation

Research has proven tech dependence increases impulsivity and lowers frustration tolerance. Without developing the ability to self-regulate, kids remain emotionally immature and mired in early childhood behaviors such as bullying, temper tantrums and angry outbursts.

3. Diminishes Social Skills

Even when kids play games online with others, such faceless relationships rarely lead to true friendships. In this way, tech dependence tends to breed isolation and reclusiveness. The more tech dominates, the less community develops. This leaves kids with poor coping skills and limited tools for navigating relationships.

4. Undermines Empathy

When screen time replaces family or friend time, kids move through the world in trance-like states, self-absorbed and detached from others. Unempathic and unsympathetic, they lack attunement and rapport. The basic building blocks of healthy compassion remain underdeveloped.

5. Stunts Motivation

Motivation toward achieving personal goals in life, which requires drive, sustained attention and high levels of frustration tolerance, declines rapidly. Like any addict, as kids become more dependent, they start to neglect themselves and their future. Watch what happens when tech addicted kids are suddenly forced to interact with the world. They quickly grow discontented and irritable. That’s because, unlike technology, they can't control the real world or the people in it. As a result, when faced with difficult life choices, tech dependent kids are likely to suffer symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Guidelines for Parents

Everyone suffers when tech dependence goes unaddressed. After all, technology is supposed to enhance kid’s lives, not control their lives. Strive to put structure and limits around tech use for all family members. Remember, technology should be a tool for kids -- not a way of life.

For a complete list of parenting dos and don’ts regarding technology, click here.

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