For as long as we can remember, adults have been concerned about how children are growing up, what values they are learning, and how they are socializing.
Similarly, children and teens have long been bonding over things that baffle parents — kids in the ’80s had mullets and Star Wars, kids in the ’90s had Tamagotchis and mood rings. Today’s kids have emojis and filters. It’s part of their language, and how they connect with one another.
Likes and followers have also become a big part of kids’ everyday lives. And unfortunately, these things have a negative impact on their emotional, physical, and social well-being. So how can you encourage kids to take a break from the digital world and realize the value in forming real-world connections with others? We’ve got a few ideas.
Introduce kids to the people behind the screen
One way to teach kids about the value of real-life relationships is to explain that likes and follows are a “bonus” — social media is meant to supplement friendships, not replace them. In order to demonstrate this, parents can share their own social media interactions, explaining how each online connection is with an old high school friend, work colleague, or family member. This helps children understand that they should know the name and face behind every avatar.
Encourage them to be kind
According to Mitch Prinstein, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina, striving for popularity can lead to long-term problems like addiction, anxiety, and depression. While he thinks social media is okay for teens in moderation, he also stresses the importance of reminding them about what really matters: “What will really help them to develop the skills they need is to connect with others, to care about whether they made others feel welcome,” he says.
Focus on quality family time
When it looks like teens are becoming too invested in social media (i.e. if they constantly check their phones or get upset about not having enough likes on a photo), it’s a good time to remind them that Facebook and Instagram are a form of communication — not the form of communication. To help with this, adolescent therapist John Mopper advises parents to deprioritize social media and screen time at home. “It’s really about being able to have a relationship with your kids where they’re brought up doing other things, [teaching them] from a time when they are really young that there are other things in life that are important.”
Be part of the community
In addition to helping your kids maintain friendships, you can help them connect with others in the community. Many children, for example, go to private schools or athletic clubs outside of their own neighbourhoods. If friends aren’t around, help them to set up a lemonade stand or encourage them to wave and say hello to the family next door. These actions foster kindness and good manners, while showing kids that they can build relationships without technology.
Play, play, play
Parents are the gatekeepers of playtime, so getting kids to understand the value of real connections is as easy as making fun plans. In addition to scheduling playdates with friends, try enrolling them in after-school clubs or drop-in classes at your local community center. Libraries also often host a variety of free activities, like buddy reading, Lego building, movie afternoons, and board game days.
Getting your kids to join a sports team is another great option. Many, like soccer and baseball, will get kids running outside and teach them how to compete and work with others — plus, they’ll be so focused on the game that they’ll forget about their phones for awhile. Playing sports has also been proven to release endorphins, which will show kids that there are things outside of Instagram that can make them feel happy.
Disconnect to reconnect
One of social media’s biggest lures is the instant gratification it provides. People who post on Instagram or Snapchat are offered immediate feedback from peers, which can unfortunately lead to shortened attention spans, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.
Combatting this temporary high takes a concerted effort, so many parents, caregivers, and teachers are helping kids to practice mindfulness exercises, like meditation. Taking a mental time-out gives youngsters time to think, to process, to observe, and to absorb what’s happening around them — without the distraction of a device — which can help them to understand that there’s much, much more beyond the screen.
Children will naturally become more dependent on technology as they get older — and that can be a great thing. After all, devices and platforms were designed to help us interact with each other. So long as kids are taught to value real connections with real people, there’s nothing wrong with letting them use tech to improve and maintain friendships. Just remember to make sure they get some screen-free playtime, too.
Image credits: Robert Kneschke / Shutterstock, Fizkes / Shutterstock, matimix / Shutterstock