What does the issue of lacking physical interaction, which comes about due to the increasing use of and communication through technical devices, have on the mental development of children in particular?
Of course, one of the big questions – specifically about how screen technology is impacting children – is their ability to empathize. Over the last few years, a new term has crept into use – “virtual autism.” What people are saying is: if you’re not practicing interpersonal skills, you’re not going to be very good at them, because you’re only good at what you practice. And it will be aversive if you don’t have practice looking someone in the eye, smiling at them, and cuddling them. You will increasingly resort to going through the screen. However, “virtual autism” is different from autism: it’s autistic-like traits of having difficulty in empathizing with others. And the very good news is: it can be reversible! There’s a very good paper on this, where they took preteenagers – so kids around 11 or 12 years old, none of whom were good at empathy and with very poor interpersonal skills – and they divided them into two: half of them stayed with their digital devices, the other half had these devices confiscated. And they went to a summer camp for five days. Just within these five days, they could see a significant improvement in their interpersonal skills. That shows you that nothing is irreversible. The brain is constantly evolving and changing. So although one could fear that kids are going to have problems with empathy, if we do something about it, and if we give them an environment where they can practice face-to-face communication, then that should be offsetting it.
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