girl at laptop

Girls who spend a lot of time using multimedia seem are less happy and socially comfortable than peers who spend less time on screens, a study from Stanford University suggests.

Researchers came to that conclusion after analysing an online survey taken by 3,400 8- to 12-year-olds. The survey was offered through Discovery Girls magazine, which markets itself to that age -group (if indeed it is an age “group”, since there is, or ought to be, a big difference between 8 and 12-year-olds). The more time they spent in online communication and video use, the less happy they seemed to be.

There are problems with the survey: the girls self-report the time they spend on media, and they may not be a representative sample. There’s also the causality caveat: it could be that girls already less well-adjusted avoid face-to-face relations and have more recourse to the screen. With those reservations parents may still feel affirmed in their instinct to limit media time for both daughters and sons.

There is a hint that girls, in particular, need face time rather than Facebook time:

The reason, say the researchers, is that on a basic, even primitive level, girls need to experience the full pantheon of communication that comes from face-to-face contact, such as learning to read body language, and subtle facial and verbal cues.

“Humans are built to notice these cues — the quavering in your voice, perspiration, body posture, raise of an eyebrow, a faint smile or frown,” said Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor of communication who led the study. Social media, he added, leaves the conversation two-dimensional. “If I’m not with you face to face, I don’t get these things. Or, if I’m face to face with you and I’m also texting, I’m not going to notice them.”

I recall that girls use social media much more than boys because they are more inclined to confide in their friends anyway. However, they are not likely to benefit from texting and online networking that is displacing real friendships.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet