Kids These Days: Are Face-to-Face Social Skills among American Children Declining?


social skills, technology, teachers, parents, students


Many social commentators posit that children’s social skills are declining as a result of exposure to technology. But this claim is difficult to assess empirically because it is challenging to measure “social skills” with confidence and because a strong test would employ nationally representative data of multiple cohorts. No scholarship currently meets these criteria. The authors fill that gap by comparing teachers’ and parents’ evaluations of children’s social skills among children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 1998 and 2010 cohorts. The authors find no evidence that teachers or parents rate children’s face-to-face social skills as poorer among more recent cohorts, even when accounting for family characteristics, screen time use, and other factors. In addition, within cohorts, children with heavy exposure to screens exhibit similar social skills trajectories compared to children with little exposure to screens. There is a notable exception—social skills are lower for children who access online gaming and social networking many times a day. Overall, however, the results represent a challenge to the dominant narrative that social skills are declining due to technological change.

Original Publication Citation

Downey, Douglas B. and Benjamin G. Gibbs. 2020 “Kids These Days: Have Face-to-Face Social Skills among American Children Declined?” American Journal of Sociology

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



American Journal of Sociology




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor