Can Phone Obsessed Kids Develop Emotional Intelligence?

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One of the worries I have for my daughter and her friends is that phones are stunting their emotional intelligence skills — particularly in the areas of social awareness and relationship management. And it’s clear that EQ is a huge predictor of personal happiness and academic success so if it’s not well developed, well, that wouldn’t be ideal.

What’s more, I imagine kids’ phones are also used to avoid feelings in general (self-awareness and self-management skills.) They’re an escape from reality. A way to not have to deal. And if you think we grown-ups are exempt, think again. We do it all the time with shopping, drinking, eating, internet surfing, and so forth.

My daughter’s friends spent most of the time at both her 12-year old and 13-year old birthday parties ON THEIR PHONES! (One was even at a professional basketball game.) My daughter felt so disappointed.

At the time, my daughter didn’t have a phone of her own. If she did, I hope she wouldn’t have done the same thing. But everywhere you look, kids are together but not talking. Why? They’re all looking down to their phones.

To develop social intelligence (EQ) it’s important to be present in the moment. This is called being mindful. Phones clearly interfere. No one is being present with each other nor in the moment.

Who can resist looking at that text that just pinged?

Not too many kids.

(How about you?)

A recent study by psychologists at UCLA confirms my fears. Technology is not helping kids develop emotional skills.

So what can we do to help our phone-obsessed kids?

(Incidentally, did you know that “texting thumb” and “texting neck” are actual things?!)

12 Emotional Intelligence Activities for Phone Obsessed Kids

1. Put down the phone (iPad, computer) — you and your kids both — for at least a block of time every day. Don’t expect your kids to do it if you won’t.

2. Model putting down technology when having face-to-face conversations.

3. Practice “reading” faces and body languagehuman emotions are more subtle than emojis.

4. Practice making faces and positioning your body to express your emotions. Discuss when it’s appropriate to “wear your emotions on your sleeve” and when it’s not. (I’m thinking here of not rolling eyes or making a yucky faces during science class.)

5. Practice making eye-contact and smiling. This is HARD for some kids — I get it. Tell them to look at the person’s nose if the eyes are hard. Show how they look when they don’t make eye contact and smile. Some kids, like my oldest, don’t seem to care but often, as in her case, her sensory issues really interfere. Be patient.

6. Talk about your concerns. Are they feeling controlled / addicted? What does that look like? I like to ask questions and prompt my kids to think it through themselves.

7. Talk about phone-heavy situations like my daughter’s birthday parties. How did that feel? What would they change?

8. Find ways to show you care. What can you do or say to show someone you care? (To friends, siblings, parents.)

9. Remember politeness makes a difference. “Thank you,” “Please,” and “I’m sorry” are all the things we learned as small children because manners matter.

10. Work on listening to understand. Try listening and paraphrasing what the other person said. Practice listening without interrupting. This is such an important skill!

11. Plan out conversations and visualize them. If you know you’re going to go somewhere with other people, think of a few questions or conversation starters you could use. Visualize how you’ll act before you go — warm, friendly, good listener, eye-contact, and the things you might talk about.

12. Do emotion checks. This annoys my kids a bit but I need them to find their center and listen to their soul. I say, “What are you feeling in your body right now?” “What are you feeling in your emotions — your soul / heart right now?” I differentiate the two because sometimes my kids say that they’re feeling tired — but that’s just their bodies and they might be feeling sad which manifests in their body as tired. Or body feeling might be stomach butterflies and soul feeling might be excited or nervous. (ALSO read: Emotions Sort Activity and Pooh Sticks.)

13. BONUS: Watch a kid-friendly reality TV show like Project Runway with your kids. Observe how the participants interact with each other, how well they listen, get along, are polite, show they care, and other social intelligence skills. It’s quite a powerful teaching tool. Who would have thought?

emotional intelligence ideas for tech-obsessed tweens and teens

also read: Yoga for Kids

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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