Recent research shows that younger individuals are adopting and utilizing technology more than any other age group. According to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2019), high-speed mobile subscriptions exceed the number of people in OECD countries. More importantly, the worrying trend is that most online users are children between the ages of ten and fifteen. The report showed that school-going children between the ages of ten and fifteen spend at least two hours online every weekday and more than three hours on the weekends. These statistics show that younger people are using the internet more, and their age to join the internet is decreasing. For example, the same report showed that 52% of three and four-year-olds and 82% of five and six-year-olds are already online (OECD, 2019). The above statistics relate to various types of technology use, such as social media and communication, video games and television. Although technology benefits children, the negative impacts, especially since childhood is a development period, cannot be ignored. One of the most impacted areas by technology is the socialization of children.
Societies are made of a variety of codes and structures that are passed down from generation to generation. Younger people learn to follow these codes as they observe the conduct of others around them. According to Perez-Felkner (2013), socialization refers to the “process by which individuals adapt to and internalize the norms, values, customs, and behaviors of a shared social group” (p. 2). The internalization of shared norms, values, customs and behaviors starts at a young age. The socialization of children has an impact on their development and future lives. Therefore, the socialization of children is important because its consequences are notable throughout an individual’s life and can impact their development process. For example, a child can become an introvert throughout their life because their childhood socialization promoted isolation. The development of technology and the significant number of children using technology poses a threat to childhood socialization in different ways. Technology negatively affects the socialization of children because they cause isolation, addiction, and disconnection from parental relationships.
Technology has contributed to isolation despite its initial goal being connection. Isolation is a significant problem for children still developing socially because it cuts them off from learning in real social environments. Research shows that socialization occurs when young people, particularly children, interact with their environments (Perez-Felkner, 2013). Therefore, an important aspect of socialization for children is interaction with their environment. Different types of environments impact the socialization of the child. First is the microsystem, which consists of the immediate context of a child, such as family, classroom and peers. Second, is the mesosystem, which describes the meeting of the various parts of the microsystem, such as the parental work environment and parent-teacher relationships. The third is the exosystem, the external community, such as the neighborhood, schools, and the media. Finally, there is the broader social-cultural context, also known as the macro system, which may include factors such as social media, politics and class. The microsystem is the most important interaction in child socialization because that is where the child spends the most time. However, the issue is that technology has shuffled everything such that the exosystem and the macrosystem are closer to the child than the microsystem. Technology causes a child to neglect those closest to them socially while creating an impression that they are creating connections with others in the world, leading to isolation (Zengaro, Zengaro S & Ali, 2019). An example of an impression of a social connection is when a child posts a picture that gets many likes without any communication. The child tends to focus on the likes while neglecting communication and interaction with close ones such as parents and siblings. The children isolate themselves as they seek to form connections with those online. The false sense of social interaction online creates a false sense of socialization, especially because children are still developing and have no point of reference for social interactions. Children can easily interpret online activities such as liking or sharing a picture as adequate socialization when it is simply one aspect of socializing. Generally, the danger of technology is that it gives children a false sense of socialization while isolating them from those who are catalysts of child socialization. Technology not only gives a false sense of socialization but can also cut it off completely by making it seem unnecessary.
As a result, the isolation causes drifting in parent-child relationships. Parents are the first individuals to influence a child socially. Barnes (2015) writes about the concept of anticipatory socialization that begins even before a child is born, where parents begin adopting behaviors that would align with the gender of their unborn child. Therefore, the socialization of children in their early years is mainly driven by parents. The role of parents in the socialization of children is also supported by Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development theory (Orenstein & Lewis, 2022). The first three stages, infancy, early childhood and play age, describe the first stages of socialization, where the child learns by interacting with their parent or caregiver. For example, in the first stage, the child learns to trust and mistrust when the caregiver keeps them in a secure environment with regular food, which is a significant need for socialization as the child’s interaction with others and the environment will be determined by values such as trust. The main point here is that parent/caregiver-child relationships are key for the successful socialization of a child. Due to the isolation caused by technology, parent-child relationships may be disrupted, meaning that the socialization process is also disrupted. Although most parents have positive relationships with their children, their role as the first agents of socialization is impacted because they have to compete with technology (Moawad & Ebrahem, 2016). Since children and younger people are the most recipients of technology, it is more challenging for parents to compete with ever-developing and exciting technology. For example, a few years ago, parents had only Facebook to worry about, but now Instagram, Twitter and Tiktok are taking all the children’s attention. Instead of spending time after being on the phone with their parents, children simply switch from one app to the next. It is also important to note that the relationship parents maintain with their children is crucial for growth and development socially and in other aspects. Closeness with parents impacts the child’s behavioral and emotional well-being. Moawad and Ebrahem (2016) found that “For children of the information age, the Internet plays an important part in their lives in which it is regarded as their new attachment figure as opposed to physical approximate-seeking behavior in infancy and childhood” (p. 176). In other words, children should seek attachment with caregivers and parents in childhood. However, technology is replacing parents and caregivers as children are more interested in it than in closeness to parents. Technology generally separates children from the first agents of socialization, parents and caregivers, by replacing them with gadgets and virtual connections.
Further, isolation and detachment from parents are consequences of children becoming addicted to technology. Bhattacharyya (2017) found that children who use technological gadgets more than four times daily are addicted to them. Addiction to drugs was a major problem in the past, especially for adolescents, but now, addiction to technology is an issue that impacts even four-year-olds. Excessive use of technology gadgets such as cell phones causes dependency on them. Research shows that high dependency on technology influences children to be more violent and unable to control their emotions (Khan, 2020). Violence may be from learning violent behavior from online interactions, such as in violent video games. The violence may also emanate from children resisting parents’ guidance on using technology gadgets. For example, children may throw tantrums when asked to stop using their phones at the dinner table or in class. Learning violence is part of negative socialization, where children learn that violence is a normal way of responding to situations in society. Such children begin to display violent behaviors towards others when in conflict or when they feel threatened. Similarly, children may develop mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, especially from consuming too much-unsupervised content. Other issues resulting from technology addiction in children include loss of confidence and attentiveness, absence of motor control, eye and ear problems and superfluity action. Technology exposes children to too much information without proper context. Although social media apps and other gadgets require a certain age limit, there are no guaranteed ways to prevent children from consuming content meant for adults. As a result, children using technology are getting socialized without context. As previously discussed, socialization happens in different contexts. However, the one that influences children the most is the microsystem which relates to the people and environment the child interacts with closely every day, such as siblings. Normally, a parent or caregiver would teach a child to solve a conflict by reporting to a teacher. However, video games present the idea that conflict can only be solved through violence. Unlike adults who can filter information and decide for themselves, children perceive information as truth and act it out without consideration, which often creates danger for themselves and others. For example, in the past few years, the world has witnessed the deaths of young children attempting to perform a popular TikTok challenge. Such instances depict how addiction to technology can create a socialization process that has no supervision and does not align with the reality in society.
Despite the negative of technology on the socialization of children, some argue that technology is beneficial in many ways. First, one argument is that technology increases access to social interactions, which promotes the process of socialization. According to Fox-Turnbull (2019), children’s education should be holistic, meaning all key areas of life should be introduced, including technology. Since society is currently driven by technology, many argue that introducing children to technology at an early age helps them become better socialized. In other words, preventing children from using technology will produce half-baked children who struggle to adjust to a technology-driven world. Fox-Turnbull (2019) argues that technology allows children to learn in authentic environments that mimic real-life situations hence better and faster socialization. Children are introduced to key skills that will contribute to success in the world, such as creativity, critical thinking, decision-making and general preparation for the future. Therefore, the argument is that the use of technology among children is a necessary disruption of the socialization process to prepare them for a future and a technology-driven world. However, it is key to recognize that limitations can be placed to avoid the negative impacts affecting the growth and development of socialization. For example, society cannot allow children to simulate real-life experiences using technology to replace real-life interactions and connections. Although technology has gotten good, it still needs to fully represent real-life connections between and among human beings. As a result, the argument that technology prepares children for the future is flawed in that technology is presented as a replacement for human beings rather than a tool. Recognizing technology as a tool allows the application of limitations to how children utilize it and provide mechanisms for reducing its negative effects.
Therefore, several recommendations can be implemented to limit the negative effects of technology on children’s socialization. First, parents and caregivers must take back their role as primary agents of socialization by choosing when and how to introduce technology to children. Many parents and caregivers introduce technology to children as a distraction when they are busy. Other parents may introduce it simply as entertainment, meaning children will perceive technology from a limited perspective. Parents and caretakers are responsible for introducing technology to children in a manner that protects their growth and development processes in all aspects, including socialization. Secondly, children may not have the capacity to decide the limits of using technology. Parents should take accountability by limiting children’s time on technology and promoting real-life social interactions such as playing outside. Research shows that playing with peers is one of the most significant activities that impact children’s socialization process. According to Perez-Felkner (2013), children tend to participate in play more with their peers than with adults. Parents should steer their children to socialize with peers and away from gadgets. While parents and teachers encourage children to embrace technology, they should also educate them about its positive and negative impacts. Technology should not be presented from a single perspective that creates the flawed idea that it is entirely good, especially because children cannot determine the good and bad of technology.
In conclusion, technology negatively impacts the socialization of children due to its tendency to result in addiction to technological gadgets, isolation and disrupt the parental-child relationships, which should serve as the primary agents of socialization. As a result, technology is causing a flawed sense of socialization for children while preventing its occurrence in the usual growth and development processes. Many parents are losing children to social media and the internet despite the notable negative emotional and social effects on them. Although children are expected to utilize technology as preparation for real-life, it should be limited. Parents have to take back their role as agents of socialization and minimize the use of technology gadgets among children.
Barnes, M. W. (2015). Anticipatory socialization of pregnant women: Learning fetal sex and gendered interactions. Sociological perspectives, 58(2), 187-203.
Bhattacharyya, R. (2015). Addiction to modern gadgets and technologies across generations. Eastern Journal of Psychiatry, 18(2), 27-37.
Fox-Turnbull, W. (2019). Enhancing the learning of technology in early childhood settings. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 44(1), 76-90.
Moawad, G. E., & Ebrahim, G. G. S. (2016). The Relationship between Use of Technology and Parent-Adolescents Social Relationship. Journal of Education and Practice, 7(14), 168-178.
Orenstein, G. A., & Lewis, L. (2022). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
Perez-Felkner, L. (2013). Socialization in Childhood and Adolescence. In Handbook of social psychology (pp. 119-149). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Quthosi, S. B., Deeba, F., & Khan, S. (2020). The impact of technological gadgets on the socialization of children at the early childhood developmental stage. Journal of Development and Social Sciences, 1(3), 55-66.
Zengaro, F., Zengaro, S., & ALI, M. A. (2019). Social isolation and technology: Implications for psychosocial development: A theoretical paper. Journal of Research Initiatives, 4(3), 6.
OECD (2019). What do we know about children and technology?https://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/Booklet-21st-century-children.pdf