Online Multitasking and Tween Social Development

This week, a study conducted by Stanford University published results indicating that “tweenage” (8-12 year-old) girls who spend considerable time electronically multitasking (IMing, watching Youtube videos, posting on Facebook or MySpace) disproportionately suffer impediments to their social and emotional development. Girls who multitask on computers more frequently were shown to have lower self-esteem and feel more alienated from their peers. Interestingly, the same study found that the putative negative effects of excessive electronic multitasking can be ameliorated by increased face-to-face communication. Researcher Clifford Nass explains the benefits of in-person conversations by stressing the importance of learning to “interpret [others’] emotions” by their facial cues. He notes this brand of social insight is difficult to develop if one’s time is largely spent cycling between different screens on a computer. The study suggests that offscreen social interactions form a critical base for the development of the kind of  healthy online social “literacy” C.J. Pascoe and danah boyd emphasize in their research.

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