Teens in 2012 are as comfortable with technologies, like smart phones, iPads, MP3 players, and computers as my generation was with CD’s, telephones (land lines!), and DVD players. It is amazing to watch children as young as 2 be able to turn on and program a video on their parent’s smart phone. Is this dexterity with technology helpful or harmful?

A recent article asked girls ages 8-12 about multitasking – that is, simultaneous use of smart phones, hand held devices, Skype- and then looked at their social skills. Despite the obvious ease of using technology to communicate, these tween girls lacked social skills.

Are these findings really surprising? Not to me. Every day, I interact with tweens and teens. Often they are multitasking during clinic visits. They speak with me about the health and concerns, while at the same time clicking their phones as they alarm with incoming texts and calls. Teens tell me how they spend less time face to face with friends and peers, and more time using media like Skype and Facebook to hear updates from friends. The downside of not having actual in-person human interaction-we don’t learn subtle social cues like body language and emotion. How many times have you read a text or email and not been able to tell if the person was sad or angry? With many forms of technological communication, our facial gestures, body movements, and voice intonation are taken out of the picture completely. Even with virtual facetime, like Skype, people are often doing multiple tasks at the same time, so may not make eye contact or focus on the conversation.

So, what can parents do?  Encourage real, in-person interactions with friends. Of course, you’ll want to have rules in place for homework, curfews, and sleep overs, but there is no good substitute for having a conversation with a friend in person.

Have some time away from technology each day. Make a ‘no texting’ rule at the dinner table. Teach your tween and teen appropriate places for texting and phone conversations, and when to turn off the phone (such as in the doctor’s office or during class time).

As technology becomes more and more ubiquitous, it is going to be harder and harder to take breaks from using it, but just remember how important real human interaction is for development!