Do Computers Affect the Social Development of Our Children?

Our children maybe spending less time playing outside because of computers. We are concerned that due to screen time, our children are perhaps spending less time with their peers. The lack of face-to-face interactions due to time spent alone on a computer may lead to children not developing socially. We even see the warning signs in social media. These, however, are only our own fears. It is important to look at the evidence. And the latest research actually shows that these concerns are unfounded.

Above copied from Imgur
In a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic ResearchRobert W. Fairlie and Ariel Kalil find that children who have access to a computer "are more likely to report having a social networking site, but also report spending more time communicating with their friends and interacting with their friends in person." In addition, "There is no evidence that computer ownership displaces participation in after-school activities such as sports teams or clubs or reduces school participation and engagement."

The study involves 1000 grade 6-10 students. Five hundred are given computers and effects are measured after a year of having a computer. So, perhaps, the time is too short to see long term effects, but the self-reported times spent on the computer of the children in the study are indeed increased when a computer is made available. Thus, although more time has been spent on computers, this does not come with less time spent with friends. This does not come with less school participation and engagement. The authors do offer some guesses - less time eating, less time sleeping, or less time with parents. The last option is, of course, troublesome. Computers may in fact be extending how much our children interact with their peers while sacrificing the time they spend, with us, their parents. These are the adolescent years and if our children are only influenced by their peers and less by their parents, this probably should be our concern.