Does Screen Time Really Prevent Children from Improving Social Skills?

The recommendation is clear from the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP): "The AAP recommends that parents establish "screen-free" zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers or video games in children's bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play." It is obvious that when adolescents spend a lot of their time in front of a screen (big or handheld), very little time would be devoted to other activities. Whether taking media away from teens helps in honing social skills is a different question. This question is quite difficult to address in research since taking media away obviously means replacing it with something else. "That something else" could easily be a factor that helps teenagers socialize face to face. Take, for instance, the following study:

Daniel Willingham correctly criticizes this study by focusing on the type of intervention that was used:
The intervention is where things get weird. The press has it that the main intervention was the removal of electronic devices from children's lives for five days. In fact, the experimental group went to a sort of educational nature camp call the Pali Institute. While control subjects went to their regular school, experimental subjects participated in activities like these:
Forest Ecology
2 Class Sessions
In this module, students will hike through the forest to explore and learn about the ecosystems around them. They will identify flora, fauna and participate in hands on activities. Through these various activities, students will understand the history of the forest as the ecosystems come alive before their eyes.

Outdoor Skills *
2 Class Sessions
Mixing nature's beauty with outdoor survival, students will learn the Ten Essentials for any outdoor trip. Students learn the principles of fire building and cooking food in an outdoor setting. While in the forest, they will band together as a team to build emergency shelters. By the end of this class, students will understand the basic principles of exploring the great outdoors.

Animal Survivor
1 Class Session
In this class, students are taught the importance and dynamics of food chains/webs and how species depend on one another for survival. In a fast-paced activity, students are assigned an identity: carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. They must search for food while avoiding predators (their peers). Each student begins the game with a certain number of lives and must have at least one life remaining at the end to be a "survivor". Students will walk away with the understanding of how the balance of food chains/webs can be affected.

Day Hike
1 Class Session
In this class, schools have the opportunity to select their focus for a hike. Ranging from birding, to visiting our Nature Center and Greenhouse, to shortened versions of our double session Forest Ecology or Outdoor Skills classes, let us know what you want your kids to experience.

1 Class Session
In this module, students will learn the history and mechanics of archery, one of the oldest arts and means for survival. Students are introduced to the basic physics of a bow and arrow, as well as the proper handling of this ancient device. Armed with this knowledge, they will participate in target shooting. Students gain an understanding of the importance of archery and its influence on society.

1 Class Session
In this module, students find their sense of direction while engaging in one of our orienteering courses. During the expedition, they will learn how to navigate through the forest by using compasses and coordinates. By the conclusion of this course, students will understand the various skills involved in planning travel from point A to point B.

Art in Nature
1 Class Session
Encourage students to delve into their creative side while exploring the art potential within our forest! Students will become budding artists while making their own paint, binding and designs solely out of natural materials. The period finishes by creating a small art installation based on the renowned skills and work of British nature artist, Andy Goldsworthy.
The results are likewise questionable. The students in both experimental and control group took a pre- and post-test assessing nonverbal communication skills, mainly recognizing emotions in facial expressions. Here are the scores of the students:

Above copied from Uhls et al.
One glaring feature is the much lower number of errors for the Control group at the beginning of the study. And after a week has passed, the number of errors for the two groups of students are not really that different.

Belinda Luscombe of Time magazine quickly trumpeted the conclusions of this study:

"Kids who were deprived of screens for five days got much better at reading people's emotions than kids who continued their normal screen-filled lives." This is irresponsible reporting because this conclusion is not really supported by the study.