Emotions affect nearly everything we do. They’re how we make sense of the world as we learn to relate to one another as human beings. Having the ability to understand another person’s emotions is crucial when it comes to building relationships and living a full, healthy life.
Emotional development starts in children from a very young age. From age 3 and up, kids quickly learn to differentiate between basic emotions like joy, anger, sadness and fear by the age of three, moving on to more complicated emotions like shame, grief, and pride by age 8. They learn to become more aware of their own emotions and those of their peers and loved ones. But, as it turns out, technology might be getting in the way of our ability to read and understand emotion.
So, how do children develop their emotional intelligence? Social activity and face-to-face interaction seem to be crucial ingredients. When we spend time with other people, we have a chance to observe a range of behaviors and characteristics that clue us in as to what the other person may be thinking, including eye movement, posture, and facial expressions. If we spend less time observing these qualities, our emotional intelligence (EI) is bound to suffer as a result.
A recent study of sixth graders shows that students that spent less time consuming digital media and more time engaging with their peers in nature tend to do a better job of discerning emotions in others.
Another study of students age 17 to 23 years shows that students were slower to distinguish and recognize emotions in others after playing a violent video game.
While everyone understands and processes emotions differently, these studies suggest an alarming trend: using technology can make it more difficult to recognize emotions in others. But, for so many of us, technology has become the backbone of our lives. Some recent statistics from Common Sense Media reveal younger people are spending more time with technology than ever before.
98 percent of homes with children now have a mobile device such as a tablet or smartphone and 42 percent of young children now have their very own tablet device — up from 7 percent four years ago and less than 1 percent in 2011.
This is the age when so many young people should see their emotional intelligence blossom and grow, but they may be missing out on key opportunities to develop their EI if they’re playing with digital devices instead of spending face-to-face time with their peers.
With media consumption and technology usage on the rise among children, new generations may grow up without sharpening their emotion intelligence skills. In the future, we may see adults struggling to relate to one another’s emotions.
But understanding emotions isn’t just about building relationships. Emotional intelligence has also been linked to success. Studies show 90% of top job performers tend to score the highest in emotional intelligence. And these numbers don’t just apply to overly social professionals like teaching. They’re true across the board. Emotional intelligence seems to be the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.
If today’s kids are missing out on experiences that can help them improve their emotional intelligence, their success in the workplace might suffer as a result. As adults, these kids may have trouble navigating relationships the workplace, inhibiting their ability to build lasting ties to their colleagues and supervisors.
Parents should make sure their kids are spending plenty of time with their peers, so they can learn to develop their emotional intelligence. This means less time playing with digital devices and more time talking and hanging out in-person. Some parents might notice their child ignoring other people’s emotions, exhibiting selfish behavior, or failing to pick up on social cues. If this becomes the norm, parents can counter this trend by limiting their child’s screen time.
According to the study mentioned above, sixth graders were much better at recognizing other people’s emotions after just five days of being away from technology. Parents can quickly change their child’s behavior if they create technology-free zones, at least for several hours or days at a time.
Emotional intelligence is one of our greatest assets as human beings. Spending too much time with technology can limit our ability to process other people’s emotions. Try unplugging for a while and make more room for emotions.