Are Social Skills Apps Helpful or Harmful?

It seems everywhere you look there is a child, sometimes as young as 1 year old, playing games on his or her mother’s phone. From a very young age, today’s children are being introduced to smartphones, tablets, and apps.

Apps nowadays are pretty amazing. They can teach children anything from math, to reading and (believe it or not) social skills. Yes, the act of socializing is now being taught through apps. This is pretty ironic, since our society’s use of these devices is often cited for making us less social. Some have argued that the convenience of digital communication has had a negative impact on the younger generation’s ability to speak face-to-face.

That point of view is understandable since many kids feel way more comfortable sending a text or an instant message than they do speaking to someone in person. I even heard a dad once talking about how his teenage son prefers to text him while in the house. So it might seem a little strange that a digital app could actually help a child improve his (or her) social skills.

Strange as it may sound, it’s not impossible for a child who struggles socially to benefit from using social skills apps. The key is for your child to use the app in conjunction with a live, in-person social skills program. This is important because in order for a child to improve his social skills, he must have opportunities to apply the things he is learning to real life situations. The situations and interactions a child will face in life can’t always be predicted by a computer.

The danger of social skills apps is that some parents may be misled to see them as a stand-alone fix for their child’s social skills deficit, when in fact it allows them less time and experience dealing with real people in the real world. This is not to say that the right app can’t make a difference for a child who struggles socially—it just can’t do so alone.


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More