Impact of Technology on Early Childhood Students Socialization Skills

Introduction

The 21st century has seen children become avid users of technology – more than past generations as it has become part of their everyday life. Children’s exposure to digital technology has increased both in home and school settings. Today’s children are exposed to a wide range of technology including television, handheld game devices, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and computers at a very early age. Modern-day children can, therefore, be described as digital natives.  

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Contemporary research works have shown that preschoolers are exposed to digital devices before they are familiar with books. The prevalence of electronic technology during early childhood means that these children are spending an increased number of hours per day in front of and engaged with all kinds of screens. The rise in the use of technology during early childhood has induced increased attention on the consequences of technology use and how it impacts children’s social development. Researchers and professionals have warned that the increased use of electronic technology during early childhood influences interpersonal interactions, emotional intelligence development, and relationship management. This paper seeks to explore the impact of technology on the socialization skills of early childhood students (between ages 3 and 5) and how it will influence their ability to appropriately integrate into society in the future.

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Social Development in Early Childhood (Erickson’s Developmental Theory)

            It is during early childhood that most children start showing great gains in developing socialization skills. According to Erickson’s developmental theory, an individual’s personality develops in a predetermined order that entails eight stages of psychosocial development. During each stage, an individual experiences a psychosocial crisis that either has a positive or negative impact on their personality development. Erickson explains that successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and acquisition of important basic skills such as socialization skills. However, failure to complete a development stage can cause reduced ability to complete further stages hence an unhealthy personality (Syed & McLean, 2017). Thus, it is imperative that an individual successfully completes each stage to develop a healthy personality.

            The eight psychosocial stages of Erickson’s developmental theory include trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and ego integrity vs. despair. This paper will focus on the third stage, initiative vs. guilt since it is the one that aligns with the age group under consideration (3 – 5 years). The primary aspect during this stage involves a child regularly interacting with other children. The central factor to this stage is play, which provides children with the opportunity to explore their socialization skills through initiating activities. Erickson elucidates that during this stage children begin to plan and initiate activities with others. If given this opportunity, children feel secure in their ability to socialize and develop a sense of initiative (Syed & McLean, 2017). Therefore, it is during early childhood, specifically 3 to 5 years, when a child develops social skills.

            As children develop increased self-awareness during early childhood, they consequently become more effective at communicating and are able to understand the feelings of others and, as a result, their social skills improve. They become more skilled in expressing their emotions and modifying them to fit different situations (Degges-White, 2017). This helps them hone their ability to socialize and make friends through developing meaningful relationships. There are many benefits of promoting social development during early childhood. To start with, children become better equipped to interact with others as they have tools to utilize when conflicts arise. Additionally, their attitudes towards school and other social gatherings become positive and they demonstrate higher academic performance (Syed & McLean, 2017). Thus, it is important that parents/guardians and teachers enhance their efforts to promote social development during early childhood.

How Introduction of Technology during Early Childhood Impact Socialization Skills

            Early childhood is a critical life phase characterized by significant development in various domains including social, emotional, physical, and cognitive. During this stage, individuals are malleable and their development can be improved or impaired by early life experiences. Regarding the social aspects of development in early childhood, social competence is an essential element. Generally, socially competent children possess the ability to develop positive relationships and effectively interact with others. Notably, the ability to develop meaningful relationships and interact with others mainly depends on an individual’s communication skills and emotional intelligence. This paper will evaluate the impact of the introduction of technology in early childhood on the development of the two skills.

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How Introduction of Technology during Early Childhood Impact Their Communication Skills

Increased exposure to electronic technology for children between the ages of 3 and 5 translates to more screen time. Overuse of screen time reduces the time spent by these children engaging in real-life social interactions. Notably, children develop communication skills through their relationships with caregivers, teachers, other adults, and their peers (Hinkley, Brown, Carson, & Teychenne, 2018). Hinkley, Brown, Carson, and Teychenne insist that during early childhood, children need face-to-face engagements to learn and understand essential communication skills such as verbal and non-verbal communications, turn-taking, et cetera. Increased technology use by children between the ages 3 to 5 has the potential to socially disconnect them, which can negatively affect their development of relational and social skills. Contemporary research has pointed out that screen time negatively impacts early childhood social skills development. According to the study, the more time children in this age bracket spend with devices the more their social development suffers especially in aspects of interacting and relating with others (Brown, Winsor, & Blake, 2012).

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Another aspect of communication affected by the introduction of technology to children in early childhood is listening. Studies have shown that technology use in early childhood harms attention spans. According to Radesky and Christakis (2016), unlike an adult’s brain, a child’s brain is still developing and, as such, is malleable. Exposing children to technology at high rates as is the case in the modern-day, their brain can adopt an internet or video game way of thinking; that is, quickly scanning and processing multiple information sources. Developing brains, such as those of individuals in early childhood, are most vulnerable to this since their brains are in the early stages of development. When exposed to high volumes of technology, a child’s brain can adapt to the frequent visual stimulations and rapid changes. Consequently, they become individuals who struggle to focus on a single thing for a long time. For instance, when another person is talking to them, they might find it hard to focus attention on listening since they are easily distracted by other things happening in their surroundings (Werling, 2020).

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Moreover, since technology replaces time spent in face-to-face communications, children in the early childhood stage of development may lack sufficient time to use and learn non-verbal communication. Face-to-face interactions provide children with the opportunity to learn, understand, and use visual and vocal cues such as posture, facial expressions, eye contact, tones of voice, and body positioning (Kaur, Gupta, Malhi, & Grover, 2019). Recent research has pointed out that excessive use of technology during early childhood can increase social anxieties consequently undermining a child’s confidence when having interpersonal interactions. Moreover, when a child cannot effectively use non-verbal cues they are most likely to be misunderstood during face-to-face encounters (Brown, Winsor, & Blake, 2012). According to Brown, Winsor, and Blake (2012), this can increase feelings of social rejection which can be detrimental to a child’s self-confidence especially in the early childhood stage when they crave to be understood and accepted. When this happens, the natural cause of action is avoiding face-to-face interactions, which detrimentally impacts their social life.

However, it is worth noting that not all studies agree that the introduction of technology to early childhood students negatively impacts their socialization skills. A recent study showed that technology helps children in the early childhood stage improve their socialization skills. The study explains that introducing technology in preschool provides children with an opportunity to socialize with their peers, especially in settings where they have to share devices. Additionally, when a child interacts with technology they learn communication skills that they can use to develop better social relations with their peers (Werling, 2020). Moreover, over the past decade, a variety of social skills integrated into technology have been used to help preschoolers learn interpersonal behaviors and social skills. The technology involves using creative and educational multimedia in the realm of psychology to help children in the early childhood stage enhance their psychosocial development. The technology entails a full range of audio-visual resources that incorporates videos, pictures, sound, and text, all integrated into a single delivery system (Palaiologou, 2016). Thus, there exists a body of research that insists introduction of technology does not hurt the development of socialization skills during early childhood.

However, it is worth noting that the studies insisting that technology does not hurt children’s development of socialization skills focus on technology purposeful designed to improve socialization skills. They fail to acknowledge other technologies such as video consoles, smartphones, tablets, et cetera. These are technologies that isolate children from their peers as they spend more time interacting with these technologies than they do with their peers or adults who can help them enhance their socialization skills. Besides any increased screen time in early childhood results in reduced time used by the children engaging in face-to-face interactions and, therefore, harms their development of essential communication skills such as eye contact, non-verbal cues, body posture, and voice tones among others. Thus, it is rational to conclude that the introduction of technology to early childhood students negatively impacts their development of communication skills hence harms their socialization skills.

How Introduction of Technology during Early Childhood Impact Their Emotional intelligence

Another essential aspect of socialization is emotional intelligence. It is imperative to promote the development of emotional intelligence in individuals from a young age both and home and school settings. According to Alwaely, Yousif, and Mikhaylov (2020), a developmentally effective early childhood environment must promote the development of emotional intelligence to ensure students are well equipped to socialize effectively. Social-emotional intelligence plays an integral role throughout an individual’s lifetime. Notably, the time between a child’s third and fifth birthday is full of new social experiences. At the beginning of early childhood, one selfishly engages in the world whereby the goal is to please oneself. As the child gets older, they start to realize that relationships are founded on give-and-take and, as such, begin to learn to empathize with others which results in enhanced ability to make friends and navigate in the social sphere (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016). Thus, it is imperative that an individual develops emotional intelligence during their early childhood, lest they experience a lifetime of struggling to socialize and establish meaningful relationships.

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Before delving into how technology impacts the development of emotional intelligence in the early childhood stage it is important to define what it is and its scope. Alwaely, Yousif, and Mikhaylov (2020) define emotional intelligence as the ability by an individual to understand, manage, and use their emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and effectively defuse conflicts. Therefore, emotional intelligence refers to a set of emotional skills that collectively help an individual establish how well they can perceive and express themselves, develop and maintain relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in effective and meaningful ways. There are four basic elements of emotional intelligence namely; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management (Fiori & Vesely-Maillefer, 2018).  Below, this paper will examine how technology impacts each domain of the emotional intelligence quadrant when exposed to children in early childhood.

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Self-Awareness: According to Serrat (2017), social awareness is the foundation for all the other elements of emotional intelligence. It involves a person being aware of their feelings – that is, being conscious of the emotions within the self. Individuals who are in touch with their emotions are relatively better equipped to guide their own lives as compared to their counterparts who not well in touch with their emotions. People need to be in touch with their emotions to be able to effectively interact and appreciate other people’s emotions. Moreover, people with high levels of self-awareness learn to trust their instincts and realize that feelings/emotions can provide useful information to cope with different situations. Competencies connected with self-awareness include emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, and self-confidence (Serrat, 2017). All these are competencies that an individual need to socialize effectively.

            Research has shown that the introduction of technology to children in the early childhood stage undermines self-awareness. According to Darling-Churchill and Lippman (2016), more time on technology means less time for the child to spend on his/her own thoughts and feelings. As technology dependency increases children tend to live in a state of self-alienation consequently becoming estranged from their emotional selves as they do not spend enough time self-reflecting. As a result, this undermines self-awareness whereby children become more reactive and less reflective hence cannot make thoughtful choices. Children can learn to develop self-awareness from spending time interacting, learning, and playing with their peers (Grover, 2017). However, the more time they spend on technology the less time they spend in interactive activities with peers and this diminishes room for the development of self-awareness.

Self-Management: It is the second essential element of emotional intelligence. Self-management means that a person has the ability to balance their own emotions so that fear, anxiety, anger, or worry do not bar them from effectively interacting with others. Individuals who can manage their emotions socialize better because they can think and express themselves clearly. Notably, managing emotions does mean denying or suppressing them but rather involves understanding them and using the said understanding to deal with situations objectively. Individuals should high-levels of self-management are able to recognize a feeling or a mood, think about what it means and how it affects them and others, then choose how to act. Key competencies associated with self-management that are essential for effective socialization include self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, initiative, optimism, and adaptability (Serrat, 2017).

            A rich body of research has proven that technology dependence lowers frustration tolerance and increases impulsivity; thus, weakening self-management. Without developing the competence to self-regulate, children remain emotionally immature and mired to early childhood behaviors such as angry outbursts, throwing tantrums, and bullying. At the beginning of early childhood, temper tantrums and rapid mood swings are common. However, as a child grows older they go from spending most of their time with family and close friends to spending most of their day interacting and playing with other kids. The interaction with their peers away from family members allows them to learn self-management (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016). Notably, increased exposure to technology means more screen time and less time interacting with their peers. Consequently, the child does not effectively develop self-regulation competence and may remain mired to early childhood behaviors.

Social Awareness: Serrat (2017) defines social awareness as having the ability to understand how to react to different social situations and being able to effectively modify interactions with different people to achieve the best results. A socially aware person understands the world around them and how different environments influence people. Developing social awareness improves an individual’s skills to connect with others both verbally and non-verbally since they can accurately notice the emotions of others and decode situations appropriately (Alwaely, Yousif, & Mikhaylov, 2020). Thus, social awareness entails sensing what other people are thinking and being able to use one’s capacity for empathy to suit their perspective. Notably, empathy refers to the emotional and cognitive process that binds people together in various kinds of relationships that allow them to understand each other and share experiences. Competencies associated with social awareness include service, empathy, and organizational awareness (Serrat, 2017). These competencies hone one’s ability to socialize effectively.

            Increased screen time diminishes social awareness. According to Radesky and Christakis (2016), even when children play games online with others, the faceless relationships rarely lead to true friendships. Technology dependence breeds reclusiveness and isolation and, as such, causes children to lack appropriate platforms to develop their social awareness. The more technology dominates, the less a child develops socialization skills. Therefore, excessive screen time due to exposure to technology leaves children below the age of five with poor coping skills and limited tools for navigating relationships and the social sphere. When screen time replaces face-to-face interactions, children move the world in a trance-like state, whereby they are self-absorbed and detached from society. They become unsympathetic and unempathic hence lacking attunement and rapport. Consequently, the basic building blocks of healthy emotional intelligence remain underdeveloped (Darling-Churchill & Lippman, 2016).

Relationship Management: The last but equally important component of emotional intelligence is relationship management which refers to the ability to connect with others and build meaningful relationships. An individual competent in relationship management respond appropriately to the emotions of others in a way that positively influences them (Serrat, 2017). According to Serrat, relationship management involves the identification, analysis, and management of relationships with different people. It is an essential competence for building rapport, working with others towards a shared goal, negotiating successfully, and resolving conflicts. Thus, relationship management competence equips a person with the ability to take their own emotions as well as those of others and the context at hand to successfully manage social interactions. The component pulls together all the other three dimensions to create a socially competent individual. A socially competent individual is well-equipped to forge friendliness with a purpose as he/she can positively influence others and manage conflicts. Competencies associated with relationship management include influence, change catalyst, inspirational leadership, conflict management, collaborations and teamwork, and building bonds (Radesky & Christakis, 2016).

            Technology dependence by children in early childhood renders them socially competent underdeveloped by the time they are completing the phase since they do not have the essential tools for relationship management. Research has shown that a child can only learn relationship management through face-to-face interaction with peers as well as adults. Unfortunately, the more time a child spends on technology the less time they have for face-to-face interactions. As such, they get out of the early childhood stage with social skills that are lacking or underdeveloped (Alwaely, Yousif, & Mikhaylov, 2020). Thus, the introduction of technology can undermine a person’s relationship management competence when introduced in early childhood.

            It is worth noting that not all literature works focusing on the correlation between technology and emotional intelligence development in early childhood concur that the two share an inverse relationship. According to Graafland (2018), technology can positively contribute to a child’s development of emotional intelligence. Graafland argues that for a person to develop and improve emotional intelligence they must have sufficient time for introspection.  Since a person cannot conduct introspection when in social places, technology allows children to spend time alone and as such get in touch with their mental and emotional process. Graafland’s argument is almost convincing, however, when a child spends time on technology they are not introspecting but rather carried away in the games or things they are watching on their devices. In fact, technology dependency encourages children to self-isolate and detach themselves from environments that they can develop social skills. Thus, the basis of the argument that technology contributes to the improvement of a child’s emotional intelligence is unconvincing.

Bottom Line

            From the above-discussed research findings and literature, it is evident that technology dependence in early childhood and the development of social skills share an inverse relationship. The period characterized by the most development in a person’s communication skills is during their early childhood. It is during early childhood that a child pays keen attention to how people communicate – during this period a child learns and understands both verbal and non-verbal communication cues. Early childhood is full of new social experiences. A three-year-old child does not have a fine grasp of their emotions. However, by the time a child is reaching six years they are supposed to be able to understand their emotions better. The introduction of technology in early childhood can lead to technology dependency which in turn negatively impacts a child’s development process of communication skills and emotional intelligence. Consequently, their socialization skills are underdeveloped by the time they are completing the early childhood phase.

            At the beginning of early childhood, the child does not understand how relationships work and, as such, they selfishly engage in the world – their sole goal is to please themselves and satisfy their needs. However, as children grow older they begin to understand realize that relationships are founded on the give-and-take philosophy. They start learning essential social skills such as empathy which allows them to make new friends and learn their place in various relationships. A three-year-old child will throw temper tantrums to any person for the pettiest things. However, as a child grows older and interacts with other adults rather than his/her family as well as peers, he/she begin to understand how to control their emotions. By the time a child is reaching six years, from engaging in numerous interactions with different individuals, they should understand that other people have emotions and that they must take into consideration all situations involved in a given situation. Technology dependency leads to reclusiveness and isolation consequently barring a child from face-to-face social interactions, which are essential to the development of socialization skills in early childhood.

            To sum up, technology dependency in early childhood hurts the development of socialization skills. More screen time translates to lesser time spent in face-to-face interactions. Without face-to-face interactions, it is arguably difficult for children to successfully develop socialization skills such as effective communication and emotional intelligence. Communication skills that a child may lack due to technology dependency include maintaining eye contact, body posture, reading verbal and non-verbal cues, tonal variations, and listening. On the other hand, emotional intelligence competencies that may suffer due to increased exposure to technology in early childhood include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills. A child who finishes the early childhood phase lacking the mentioned social skills or the competencies being underdeveloped may suffer long-term implications as discussed below.

Long-Term Implications of Introduction of Technology on Early Childhood Students Socialization Skills

As afore-mentioned in this paper, in the discussion focusing on Erickson’s Developmental Model, failure to successfully complete a developmental stage can cause reduced ability to complete further stages hence an individual developing an unhealthy personality. Research by Goodman, Joshi, Nasim, and Tyler (2015) concluded that social and emotional skills during early childhood can predict later life outcomes. Lack of or having underdeveloped social competence in early childhood can result in one growing up to become an adult with poor conversation skills, relationship skills, self-control, and mannerism (Palaiologou, 2016). Socialization skills have long-term implications on various aspects of an individual’s life including education, professional life, psychological health, and behavior.

Academic achievement: How a person behaves in society impacts his/her educational goals and academic achievement. Good social skills are essential for establishing good relationships with others, which consequently help one acquire new experiences and develop the potential to improve in school. Having good social skills allows students to adjust to their social life and succeed in academic activities (Simanungkalit, 2017). In the academic realm, socialization skills help students navigate everyday interactions thereby well-positioning them to exchange information, ask for help from educators and their peers, and give instructions. A student with good social skills easily interacts with peers to establish meaningful relationships and can easily adjust in group settings, which helps one to effectively make school adjustments as situations necessitate. Consequently, this improves their academic outcomes (Goodman, Joshi, Nasim, & Tyler, 2015). Therefore, the development of social skills in early childhood lays a significant foundation for later academic achievement. If a child completes the early childhood stage with underdeveloped social skills, it can cause poor academic achievement in the future.

Professional life/Job outcome: Social skills are significantly important in the labor market. Strong socialization skills are important in the workplace or professional life because they facilitate interpersonal interactions. People who are sociable early in life are more likely to succeed in jobs in which people’s tasks are important. Studies focusing on the relationship between social skills and professional life have shown that there exists a positive relationship between the two. Social skills are a moderating variable that enhances an individual’s performance. In particular, Deming (2017) found that socialization skills play an important role in moderating the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance whereby the said relationship is stronger for people with strong social skills. Moreover, social skills moderate the relationship between emotional intelligence and performance and salary whereby performance and salary ratings are higher for individuals with both high social skills and emotional intelligence (Goodman, Joshi, Nasim, & Tyler, 2015). Therefore, by negatively impacting the development of social skills during early childhood, technology dependency indirectly causes poor job outcomes and unsatisfactory professional life.

Mental wellbeing: There exists a rich body of research work focusing on the correlation between social skills and mental wellbeing. Research has pointed out that individuals with poor social skills may be at a greater risk of mental problems (Graafland, 2018). According to Graafland, individuals with poor social skills are relatively more prone to loneliness and stress – both of which can negatively affect a person’s mental health. Concurringly, Palaiologou (2016) asserts that poor social skills can contribute to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Notably, people with good social skills have high levels of emotional intelligence. As a result, they are comparably well-equipped to handle stress and, therefore, are less likely to experience depression. A person who can express their feelings and emotions whether negative or positive is less likely to fall into depression. Additionally, they are also less likely to experience loneliness as they have excellent interpersonal skills (Goodman, Joshi, Nasim, & Tyler, 2015). Since technology dependency during early childhood negatively impacts the development of essential social skills, individuals exposed to excess technology during this phase are more prone to mental problems in their adolescent and adult life.

Substance use and addiction: Low levels of social skills increase an individual’s vulnerability to illicit drug use and alcoholism. Individuals with poor social skills find it difficult to make friends and might turn to substance use to cope with the loneliness. Notably, people with poor social skills find it relatively easy to interact when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since humans are social beings, even those with poor social skills yearn for socialization (Goodman, Joshi, Nasim, & Tyler, 2015).  Substances such as alcohol have been proven by research to give individuals “Dutch courage.” When under the influence of alcohol, even socially awkward individuals find it relatively easy to interact with new people as gives them self-confidence. However, it is worth noting that social interactions held by individuals who rely on substances rarely lead to meaningful relationships. Besides, the person has to become dependent on the drug to socialize, and eventually they might end up becoming addicts (Graafland, 2018). Therefore, by negatively impacting the development of social skills in early childhood, technology dependency indirectly renders people more vulnerable to substance use and addiction in their adolescent and adult life.

Recommendations

            The introduction of technology to children in early childhood can lead to technology dependency which in turn negatively impacts the development of social skills during this stage. Lack of social skills has long-term adverse implications ranging from poor academic achievement to poor job outcomes to mental health problems to substance use and addiction. Given these adverse effects, this paper recommends that parents and preschool teachers strive towards encouraging children in early childhood to engage in face-to-face interactions and strive to reduce screen time. Admittedly, in this day and age, it is almost impossible to completely bar children from technology use. However, it is practically possible to limit the time a child spends on technology. Practices that help parents and teachers limit the early childhood kid’s screen time include modeling healthy electronic use, creating technology-free zones, and encouraging other activities that involve the child interacting with his/her peers (Coyne et al., 2017). Decreasing a child’s screen time results in more time for face-to-face interactions which are essential for the development of social skills in early childhood. Thus, parents and teachers must consider strategies for discouraging technology use in early childhood and encouraging face-to-face interactions.

Conclusion

Social skills play a crucial role in determining the quality of life an individual will live since allows people to interact with each other in a predictable but appropriate manner. The introduction of technology in early childhood can influence children to become technology dependent which in turn negatively impacts the development of social skills. Technology dependency leads to increased screen time for a child hence decreased time for face-to-face interactions with peers and adults. Lack of sufficient face-to-face interaction time for children in early childhood negatively impacts the development of communication skills and emotional intelligence. As such, the child completes the early childhood phase lacking important communications skills such as listening, verbal and non-verbal communications, body posture, et cetera. Additionally, they are characterized by low emotional intelligence including poor self-awareness, self-control, social awareness, and social management. An individual who lacks social skills may suffer long-term adverse implications in various aspects of life including mental wellbeing, educational outcomes, job and professional life, and substance use and dependence. Thus, parents and teachers must consider strategies proposed in this paper for minimizing technology use in early childhood and encouraging face-to-face interactions.

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