Healthy relationships, particularly friendships, are essential to a child or teen's life. But what happens when those relationships are limited to social media?
Though social media can provide a space for young people to meet and interact, it lacks the face-to-face connection that is important in healthy relationships. Social media cannot replace meaningful conversations, physical contact, or positive reinforcement from family and friends. Boundaries and etiquette may also be harder to learn when interacting with others online.
Here are some tips to help children and teens build meaningful friendships beyond social media:
Get out and explore your community together. There are likely plenty of activities and events near you that you don't even know about. Get involved in your community and meet new people. You can search for local events by visiting sites like Eventbrite, Meetup, exploring local community Facebook groups for parents to inquire about age-appropriate events for your child, local youth programs, or reaching out to your local libraries.
Suggest they start a club or group with their friends. Life most friend groups, everyone shares at least one common interest. Why not create a club or group around it? This is a great way to connect with others who share their interests and can be a lot of too.
Offer to enroll them in team-related extracurriculars. Working as part of a team is an important life skill. Sports, for example, can teach children how to cooperate, problem-solve, and work through challenges together and that not everyone will always get what they want, but that winning is a team effort. They will quickly learn that selfish actions, in sports and life, can mean defeat for everyone.
Volunteer. There are many ways for children to volunteer in their community, like caring for animals, collecting food or money for people who need it, or even helping people in their neighborhood. Volunteering gives them a chance to explore their passions in a meaningful way and make an impact on the world around them.
It's important for kids to understand that it's not about how much time or money they give – it's about being part of something bigger than themselves and making a difference in their community. Encouraging children to volunteer can help them develop empathy, gain confidence and make friends. It's an opportunity for them to learn about the power of giving and make a difference in the world!
While we offered tips for building in-person relationships, social media can be used to develop meaningful connections when used wisely. However, ensuring your child spends a reasonable amount of time off their devices (especially when interacting in public) is critical for their social-emotional development.