Are children spending too much time with their cell phones, electronic games and computers? Is this just part of growing up in our world of electronic gadgets? Do these devices help build good relationships or do they hinder interpersonal skills nurturing?
Driving through the city, I saw two children walking together. One texted on a cell phone and the other played a Game Boy or some device. They were walking together, but not talking together. Later in the day, I heard a teen yell to another, “Don’t come over, send me an e-mail or text me.”
Before the invention of these electronic gadgets, children communicated and occupied their time differently. My friends and I were always looking for some type of physical activities or table games when I was growing up. During the colder months, we had sled riding and other winter activities. Some might even say that the exercise helped prevent the childhood obesity problems faced by some present day electronic gadget children. A well-developed finger muscle, acquired by playing an electronic game, is not a great physical workout!
We did talk on the landline phone, but we had face-to-face conversations most of the time. All of these activities inadvertently taught us some interpersonal skills. Some of the activities, like football, taught us that you could be a star by yourself, but working as a team won the game.
People can use electronic gadgets to communicate with other people. This does provide interaction, even if the other people are not physically present. Gamers will contend that a teaming effort is required to win some of the activities, and that involves interpersonal skills.
Is electronic participation as good as being there? That is a matter of opinion. We all see our world through our own lens or life experience. It is possible to learn interpersonal skills in many different ways. Developing these interpersonal skills makes us aware of human behavior–good and bad.
Critics say that electronic gadgets have given criminals a new way to interact. They perpetrate crimes with prepaid cell phones and enable criminal activities involving children over the Internet. Others counter by saying the safety factor gained in having a cell phone is worth any peripheral problems. Internet safeguards and supervision can protect children from those who want to harm them. In addition, law enforcement uses many electronic gadgets to apprehend the criminals.
One might conclude that with electronic gadgets, you are never out of touch. People who live in remote areas can communicate with others for pleasure or emergencies. Children can attend a cyber school instead of a traditional school, getting their schooling over the Internet. Both involve some interpersonal skills, but does an image through the computer or voice over the cell phone permit the same degree of interpersonal skill development? Again, it depends on the individual viewpoint.
Electronic gadgets affect adults as well. For some, texting and e-mailing have become a way of dealing with people, i.e., the norm. It provides a stealthy way of communicating for some people. Sending an e-mail or text message means there are no emotions, no waste of time, and can be one-way–not open to immediate questions or criticism. In addition, sometimes someone will say things on the phone or in writing that they cannot say face-to-face.
There is no doubt that electronics and technology have changed our lives. The progress we have made has saved many lives, and has made life easier and safer for us all. How electronic gadgets affect interpersonal skill development is open to debate. I suppose it depends upon the goals of the participants.
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John A. Invernizzi, Ph.D.