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Dr. Murray Feingold: Children are lacking face-to-face time

Dr. Murray Feingold: Children are lacking face-to-face time

By Dr. Murray Feingold

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A major concern of the overwhelming use of electronic devices by children is that it reduces their face-to-face interaction with their peers. As a result of this lack of social interaction, it is believed that these children have a decreased ability to understand and read the emotional cues of others. It reduces their social skills.

A recent study was done to determine if this actually takes place.

Two groups of sixth-graders were studied. One group spent five days together at a nature and science camp. At the camp they were not permitted to use any electronic devices.

Before the study, the students were tested to determine their ability to identify the emotions present in individuals in photographs and videos. The students viewed pictures of people who demonstrated the emotions of being happy, sad, angry and scared. They also watched videos with actors who demonstrated various emotions.

They were then tested to determine their ability to identify facial emotions and other non-verbal cues regarding emotions.

The control group of students continued to use electronic devices, and were also tested.

Results of pre- and post-testing showed that those who no longer used their digital devices showed significant improvement in their ability to identify facial emotions and other non-verbal cues, compared to those who continued to use electronic devices.

It was the researchers’ opinion that children learn these non-verbal emotional cues much better with face-to-face interaction compared to interacting with a digital device.

Of course, children aren’t the only ones who are almost addicted to their high tech gadgets. So are many adults.

The other day I observed nine cabs parked in front of a hotel waiting to pick up fares. Eight of the cabdrivers were sitting alone in their cabs using their electronic devices. It wasn’t that long ago these cabdrivers would be out of their cabs conversing with their fellow drivers.

This lack of interaction with others takes place in many other disciplines. In the medical profession, many patients lament the fact that their doctor interacts more with their computer than they do with them.

Will this infatuation with electronic devices continue? They have become so interwoven into our daily lives it is going to be difficult for many people to stop their thumbs from bouncing from letter to letter on their palm held electronic gadgets.

But hopefully they will try.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.

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