Connecting Digital Literacy to Social and Emotional Development

The importance of how technology impacts social and emotional development is not newly identified – however, due to the pandemic, it is more widely discussed as youth are required to increase screen time to access distance learning, despite studies that show how increasing screen time for recreational use (e.g. social media, video gaming, entertainment, etc.) has an adverse impact on youth’s emotional development. While noted, one must consider whether a form of virtual recreational screen time can, in fact, offer comparable in-person benefits, such as developing relationships with peers. For example, playing online games with peers allows them to communicate and engage with other while playing the game.

The concern around increased screen time by youth has been seeding and growing for many years, and merely heightened over the past 12 months as more families turn to distance learning. In light of COVID-19, it is important to take into account quality versus quantity of screen time. For example, teens playing online video games may increase their overall screen time, while similarly providing them opportunities to interact with peers, functioning as an outlet for social engagement.

As a “digital immigrant,” someone who did not grow up surrounded by technology, it is much more challenging for caregivers to understand “digital natives” who simply cannot imagine a world without smartphones or computers constantly within reach. As adults, it can be perplexing to understand how something as little as a cellphone can lead to such anxiety, depression and or even addiction, while youth cannot fathom how we do not recognize the pain and agony they feel from a simple act of another not “liking” their post. Finding the answer to solve the pressures youth experience as a result of technology may not be simple if the solution is created by those who did not grow up with shared experiences. Or, for adults to understand the obsession that grows from playing a seemingly silly and meaningless game, while youth crave more time to play online games with friends.

CfAL's Digital Literacy workshops, also known as "Tech Talks", bring light to these concerns and help caregivers navigate conversations with youth around “quality versus quantity” screen time. For example, workshops highlight the fact that as the numbers of teens with cell phones increases, along with their consistently increasing use of phones, and in particular social media, so has increased the number of teens exhibiting signs of depression and anxiety.[1] And, helps caregivers consider the positive and negative impacts of online gaming impacts youth development, as well as the impact of technology on youth development.

Digital Literacy workshops explore these conversations and help caregivers find perspective, empowering them to have meaningful conversations with youth – and brings awareness and empowers families to use technology to safely expand learning to the home and positively engage with others.

Program Impact

Through 30-minute workshops, caregivers have reported learning and better understanding the impact of technology on child development. In fact, 90% of caregivers reported learning about the impact of technology on child development through our program, while approximately 80% of adults report an increased awareness and understanding of dangers related to not monitoring children's use of technology and excess use of technology by children. As a result, 77% report becoming more actively engaged in student learning throughout the program, and worked to improve moderation of screen time on a daily basis.

The question is not whether technology is having a negative impact on youth development, but rather, how are we teaching youth to use technology as a tool to positively connect with and impact the world around them? CfAL guides parents to learn how technology can to help their children expand learning opportunities, and works toward closing the "digital learning" gap.

[1] Carol Vidal et al., “Social media use and depression in adolescents: a scoping review”, Int Rev Psychiatry. 2020 May; 32(3): 235–253.

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