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Emotional Competency, Communication, And Bullying In Adolescent Technology Use

Abuse of technologies: What do we know about it?

Nowadays, people use their electronic devices in a great variety of circumstances, including on the streets, at bus stops, in classrooms, at parties, or during family gatherings. The use of electronic devices is more frequent in adolescents since they were born and grew up with constant access to technology. Also, adolescents are the age group with the most frequent use of the Internet and social networking sites. There is no doubt regarding the great educational and communicative potential of the technologies. However, some adolescents misuse or abuse technologies.

Research shows that the abuse of technology is a damaging behavior and might cause psychological problems (such as outbursts of anger when the online connection is interrupted, anxiety), social problems (isolation from family or peers), or school problems (such as low academic performance).

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So far, studies on risk and protective factors against technology abuse have paid little attention to what extent socio-emotional competencies could be a protective factor against technology abuse. Very little was known about the emotional content in online communication and bullying in relation to technology abuse. This study was conducted to fill these gaps in knowledge.

Social and emotional competencies as protective factors against the abuse of technology?

In our recent study titled Abuse of technology in adolescence and its relation to social and emotional competencies, emotions in online communication, and bullying, published by the journal Computers in Human Behavior, we tested a model in which social and emotional competencies, emotional content in online communication, and bullying predicted the abuse of technology. We found that older adolescents with low self-motivation and management and low responsible decision-making skills are at higher risk of technology abuse.

Also, the frequent expression and use of emotional content in online communication is related to more abuse of technology. Adolescents with high levels of arousal when using the Internet (e.g., to have fun on social networking sites) might have an increased need to use it and are likely at higher risk of technology abuse. This notable finding might explain why the protective effect of a high level of social and emotional competency against the abuse of technology decreases when this relation is mediated by expression and use of emotions in online communication.

On the one hand, this might suggest that adolescents with good social and emotional competencies who decide to express these competencies online have an increased need to use — and possibly abuse —technology. On the other hand, it is possible that a high level of social and emotional competencies might be related to an excessive expression of emotions online and these highly emotional interactions might also be related to the abuse of technology.

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What about bullying, social and emotional competencies, and the abuse of technologies?

In adolescence, the great importance of the relationships with the peers is well-known. Furthermore, adolescents learn to be (or not to be) accepted by others. However, phenomena such as bullying and cyberbullying can be related to lower socio-emotional competencies for life. Some adolescents might learn that they are constantly rejected and abused, and their peer group makes them feel that they are not socially attractive. Other children might learn to reject and to abuse others with impunity. In addition, they might learn to achieve their goals through violence and, above all, to achieve a high social status in a peer group by treating others badly.  This violence-based learning can occur offline and online and might have very damaging short and long-term consequences.

In this context, our study found that involvement in school bullying, either as victims or as perpetrators, is related to more abuse of technology. Results showed that this relationship is stronger for perpetrators. It is possible that perpetrators use and abuse technology to bully their victims also in the cyberspace, which can be related to more emotional content in online communication. Also, victims of school bullying have difficulties in emotional management in face-to-face interactions. Thus, they might use and abuse technology to avoid undesirable face-to-face interactions and decrease feelings of vulnerability and stress.

Results showed that a high level of social and emotional competence is related to less bullying victimization and perpetration and therefore could potentially protect children against bullying and its consequences. Moreover, the model tested in this study showed that a high level in social and emotional competencies protects from both bullying and the abuse of technology.

Thus, it is recommended to implement different programs to promote social and emotional competencies that possibly decrease different problem behaviors in schools. Also, it would be desirable that schools and families use and promote strategies (such as promoting face-to-face interactions and relationships, along with self-management, self-motivation, and responsible decision-making) for the adequate expression and use of emotional content in cyberspace.

These findings are described in the article titled Abuse of technology in adolescence and its relation to social and emotional competencies, emotions in online communication, and bullying, recently published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. This work was conducted by a team including Elena Nasaescu, Inmaculada Marín-López, Rosario Ortega-Ruiz, Izabela Zych from the Department of Psychology. and Vicente J. Llorent from the Department of Education of University of Córdoba (Spain).

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You may access and cite this article as: Nasaescu, E., Marín-López, I., Llorent, V. J., Ortega-Ruiz, R., & Zych, I. (2018). Abuse of technology in adolescence and its relation to social and emotional competencies, emotions in online communication, and bullying. Computers in Human Behavior, 88,  114-120. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2018.06.036

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