Is technology ruining your relationships? Is your constant need to check texts and social media hurting the depth and empathy in conversations with friends and spouses? Based on recent research, whether you are talking about friendship, dating, marriage, or parenting children, the answer is yes and yes.
One report showed that the mere presence of mobile devices can have negative effects on closeness, trust, connection, and conversation quality, especially when people are discussing personally meaningful topics. In another study, individuals who had a close relationship with each other who were talking in the presence of a mobile device reported lower levels of empathy compared with dyads that were less friendly with each other. Conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of one.
A 2013 study revealed that a significantly lower level of bonding was experienced by young adult women using IM compared with in-person communication. Because adolescent and emerging adults’ digital communication is primarily text-based, this finding has significant real-world implications. Finally, a 2014 study showed that during a lecture, students who multitasked on a laptop and even people in direct view of the multitasker scored lower on a test compared with those who didn’t. The effect of screens on our ability to focus is powerful.
I would suggest that your family make agreements to keep electronic devices of all kinds off and out of sight during at least the following times: breakfast, lunch, and dinner; car rides; family movie nights; taking walks; playing outside; playing games; and tuck-ins. Involve your children in the conversation and give them a voice in whatever your family decides. I wrote in a recent blog that the primary reason college students binge drink is because they feel so awkward and anxious about having face-to-face conversations with peers or potential dating partners. We are all losing the art of deep, meaningful conversation.
A 2014 study of preteens who spent five days at an overnight camp away from screen media revealed that the short-term effects of increased opportunities for social interaction, combined with time away from screen-based media and digital communication tools, improved their understanding of nonverbal emotional cues. In plain English, they developed close, lifelong friendships because they weren’t distracted with screens. That’s one of the reasons why we ask every camper checking in at our summer camp for girls to turn their devices over to their parents for the week. Sounds like common sense to me, and yet today our behaviors with screens seem to be just the opposite.
Trust, empathy, deep conversations, and closeness are at risk for becoming extinct if we don’t take charge of our mobile devices and set personal and family limits on their usage.