Personality, social media and video games

How do preferences for introversion or extraversion impact how teens and pre-teens use social media and video games?  Parents often worry that their children spend too much time interacting with screens and too little time on face to face communication, potentially leading to poor social skills.  Some people believe that screen time is more likely to affect negatively someone who is naturally more introverted – that they may spend too much time alone, playing solitary games and not interacting with friends.  On the other hand, this time alone might be just what they need to re-energise after a busy day at school.

And occasionally, the time spent on video games might even help the young person to interact with others.  This was the case with Sam, the main character in the novel “A Boy made of Blocks” by Keith Stuart, who used to be the Guardian’s video games reviewer.  In the book, based on the author’s actual experience, playing Minecraft together helps the father and son to build their relationship.

We tend to assume that we don’t need to worry about the social skills of more extraverted teenagers, as they will have lots of friends to spend real time with and won’t want to spend too much time online.  In practice, they may spend their time interacting virtually, on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, rather than face to face.  And while this keeps them in touch with their friends, it can sometimes lead to problems such as peer pressure and cyber bullying.

So there are no easy answers to what’s the “right” amount of screen time, nor to whether some personalities are more susceptible to the downsides of the virtual world than others. The important thing is to have some insight into what need the use of social media or videogames is fulfilling and whether that need could be met in some other way: for the more introverted person, the need for time alone could sometimes be fulfilled by reading a book or making something; while for the more extraverted person the need to interact with others could sometimes be fulfilled by getting out and meeting people face to face.