A parent recently asked about ways to help her young teenagers connect better with other kids. Since middle school, it’s been harder for them to find and keep good buddies. It’s affecting their mood. They are at home more and tend to resort to screens to pass the time. Yet, like most kids, they think they’re “seeing their friends” and “talking with them everyday.” But they aren’t. Turns out, social media isn’t real socializing.
How do we know? Serious problems, related to social media, are now starting to show up in teens. It’s impacting twenty-somethings as well. They are having a very rough time finding and keeping real friends. They feel anxious when meeting new people. Forget dating. They use apps to try to connect, but most report it often results in hookups or endless rejections that lower their self-confidence.
These problems go beyond what is being reported in my office. It’s being talked about nationally. Research is mounting on just how bad heavy social media can be. The saddest part is that these wonderful, caring young people truly believe they are keeping up with and getting closer to friends. Yet, they report being lonely and hungry for real friends and partners and intimacy. By the time young adults leave for college, or take a gap year, or start work, they are far behind the curve socially.
The best way to handle this is to get your kids out of the house where they tend to be stuck on – and have greatest access to – screens. Push them out if you have to. It’s not the norm (developmentally speaking) that they are at home that much by mid to late middle school. They should be hanging with peers more, and in fact, they should be wanting to be with friends and not at home. That’s more the “healthy” norm. Any down time at home on screens isn’t “chilling,” it’s actually escaping and killing precious time and opportunities to gain social skills.
One mom I know makes her kids go to the library after school for an hour. They started to meet other kids there, get some homework done, and it’s blossomed into deeper relationships. Another teaches her kids to navigate on public transportation and has prepared them to go into town and have fun safe adventures in the city. Another demands her kids work small jobs no matter what, and volunteer, so her kids get real experience dealing with real people in situations that they have to be friendly, polite, kind, and productive.
So – when you see your son or daughter today on the iPad, laptop, or smartphone, keep in mind all those minutes and hours add up to days and weeks and months lost experiencing interactions in real time with real people. Do them a major favor and get them outside and engaged in the real world.