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Character Strengths and Life Skills

Does screen use make kids less empathic?

This is one of those topics where -- depending on where you look -- you can find as much support for one view as the other. In her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, author Sherry Turkle argues that technology isolates people and makes them care about digital relationships more than real, live people. Studies also show that excessive screen use can prevent people from picking up on face-to-face social cues. But there's evidence that screens can foster empathy, too. Video-chatting toddlers can recognize and learn from on-screen partners. Teens report that social media and multiplayer gaming strengthen their friendships. And lots of people have formed genuine, empathic connections with total strangers online.

Screen use has definitely changed the way human interaction looks -- but no one knows for sure if it's changed the way it feels. Maybe people who rely heavily on screens do so to avoid people (not the other way around). And kids' relationships (on- and offscreen) are influenced by many factors.

The best parents can do is continue to emphasize the value of human relationships using media as well as other sources, encourage kids to put themselves in others' shoes -- both online and off -- and steer kids toward positive movies and TV shows that inspire empathy.

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