social media

How Does Social Media Affect Social Skills?

Social media is a good way for people to stay in touch with each other. People who live far apart or have busy schedules can use social media to contact family and friends. But unfortunately, some people are using social media to replace in-person interactions, which causes the loss of some important social skills.

There are many nonverbal forms of communication that take place in a face-to-face conversation, and these can actually be an important part of the interaction. Often, the nonverbal communication will be more important than what is said. But this nonverbal communication does not take place on social media. So, as social media becomes an increasingly larger part of people’s communication with others, they are having more difficulty with other skills that people typically become proficient at through face-to-face conversation.

Why Does Social Media Impact Social Skills?

Social media is increasingly becoming a standard format for interacting with peers online, with individuals often never having to face each other. This is in contrast with the direct contact that until recently was the primary source of communication.

With direct contact, communicators can expect instant feedback and consequences in response to what they say. However, with social media, responses may be delayed, and communicators may not expect to ever have direct contact with one another.

This form of indirect communication can create a considerable sense of distance between communicators, which can reduce the apparent risks of communicating and lead to more callous behavior. In addition, it reduces the practice people would otherwise receive with in-person conversations, which can increase factors such as anxiety when they do have direct contact. These changes have particularly affected adolescents, teens, and young adults due to their rapid acceptance of this new format for dialogue.

Personal conversations provide the basis for learning how to interact with others, both emotionally and in effective communication. This allows individuals to learn what to say and how to feel when interacting with others. However, when this communication occurs online, there is much less context, and much less is at stake.

When social media becomes a significant part of an individual’s communication, this can leave them less familiar with the greater consequences involved in direct communication. Often, this leaves these people more anxious when they do communicate in person, potentially holding them back from fully engaging in conversations with others.

Nonverbal Skills

Before social media, people would generally spend a considerable amount of time conversing with others face-to-face. But social media has become so popular, it often replaces face-to-face conversation. Many young people would rather communicate over social media than in person. But communication on social media does not involve the nonverbal aspects of conversation. This means many people are losing these important social skills—or, in the case of some young people, never learning these skills.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is a vital part of in-person conversations. Typically, when speaking with others, individuals spend a lot of time making eye contact with them. This helps people to judge the emotions of the person they are communicating with; without this knowledge, it can be difficult to respond appropriately. Even the amount of time a person sustains eye contact with another person while conversing can be a form of communication. But when people use social media, they can have difficulty understanding nonverbal cues such as eye contact.

Body Language

As stated earlier, nonverbal communication can be more important than verbal communication. It is often estimated that body language is more important than words when communicating. But when using social media, people often miss this important part of communication. In some cases, this can leave people totally misunderstanding a message or the sender’s feelings or attitude.

Attention Span

Social media has also shortened people’s attention spans. This can make it difficult for people to do anything that doesn’t provide them with immediate gratification, such as reading, completing school assignments, or just spending time with friends. Companies have designed social media to provide as much dopamine—a hormone that (in addition to other functions) is involved in reward and motivation—as possible to encourage people to use their products.

Likes and notifications cause the brain to produce dopamine, which gives a person a sense of pleasure, thus motivating them to want to keep checking their social media. Unfortunately, constantly spending time on social media can take away time that could be spent interacting with other people and practicing social skills.

Final Thoughts

Social media has affected communication in many ways, both online and off. The lack of direct face-to-face communication social media provides can make participants more callous while denying them the feedback and context they would otherwise receive.

Social media has displaced many of the opportunities participants would have had to practice face-to-face communication, which can leave individuals less ready to face the realities of direct contact. This can exacerbate effects such as poor reading of body language, short attention spans, and more, particularly for younger users.

Though social media can be a great tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, it is important to practice direct contact and understand how it should be used. This is particularly important to consider when creating limits and understanding the potential impacts of social media on younger users.

 “While social media may have benefits for some children and adolescents, there are ample indicators that social media can also have a profound risk of harm to the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents.”—Social Media and Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, 2023.

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