Screen Time and how it affects social skills…

screen time emotionalDoes your child spend too much time on the screen? As a parent, I constantly feel torn with screen time and how to monitor it.

What are the effects of too much screen time? I found an interesting study titled Five Days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues published in the journal of Computers in Human Behavior. According to Rideout, Foehr and Roberts,(2010) “children today ages 8-18 spend over 7.5 hours a day, seven days a week using media outside of school.” Teenagers also spend more time texting than they do with any other form of face to face communication (Lenhart, 2012).

What is nonverbal communication? According to the Knapp and Hall (2010) “Nonverbal communication, defined as communication without words, includes apparent behaviors such as facial expression, eye contact and tone of voice, as well as less obvious messages such as posture and spacial distances between two or more people”.  Understanding these cues is crucial in engaging in appropriate social skills for a variety of reasons. For example, if you stand too close to another individual, that would make them feel awkward. If you can’t interpret emotional cues in a conversation, you won’t know how to react or build strong relationships. Does excessive screen time reduce this ability to read emotional cues?

This research study examined whether increasing opportunities for face to face interaction with the elimination of screens and communication tools would improve the child’s nonverbal emotion-cue recognition in preteens. In this study, 51 preteens spent 5 days at an overnight nature camp where tv, computers and phones were not permitted. There were a variety of activities at the camp including forest ecology, outdoor skills, animal survivor, day hike, archery and orienteering. According to the study, “After five days of face to face interaction without the use of any screen based media, preteens recognition of nonverbal emotion cues improved significantly more than that in the control group for both facial expressions and videotapes scenes”.

How were these children assessed? One of the tests used in the study included the FACES subtest (DANVA2). The subtest includes 48  photos of faces with varying emotions and intensity. The second test was the Child and Adolescent Social Perception Measure (CASHP) which examines a child’s ability to integrate and accurately interpret different kinds of nonverbal cues.

For more information and to access this article, click here.

This study brought up some interesting findings regarding the use of excessive screen time and perception of emotional cues.  As parents, therapists and/or educators, what kind of knowledge can be gain from this study? For most typical children, perceiving emotional cues can happen naturally with more face to face communication. We can easily implement simple ways into our routine by increasing more face to face communication with others and decreasing the amount of time on the screen. However, when excessive screen time occurs with a child who already has difficulty interpreting social cues, this can be worsen the situation and make social skills even more challenging. This situation is specific to children with special needs, particularly those with disabilities that affect their ability to socialize appropriately (e.g. Autism).

Do you need help reducing screen time? Check out these tips by We Can (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition)


Uhls, Yalda T., Minas Michikyan, Jordan Morris, Debra Garcia, Gary W. Small, Eleni Zgourou, and Patricia M. Greenfield. “Five Days at Outdoor Education Camp without Screens Improves Preteen Skills with Nonverbal Emotion Cues.” Computers in Human Behavior 39 (2014): 387-92. Web.




  1. Ngo Thuy says:

    thank you so much for sharing this article! May I also share it in the circle of my acquaintants? Thanks a lot.

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