The emergence of technology has been both a blessing and a curse. It has drastically changed the way we live our lives and interact with one another. We depend on our phones to tell time, remind us of where we need to be and when, and entertain us. Our eyes are glued to our screens, fingers constantly scroll down, checking for updates, news, stories, memes, videos and endless texts. We are obsessed with interactions and engagement with strangers and friends online. Yet, many teens struggle with social skills and how to connect with real people, in real time. We are in essence, connected online but disconnected in real life.
Most teenagers would attest to attending social gatherings where everyone talked to one another at intervals, but each person spent significant amounts of time engaged with his or her phone. Increasingly, information on our electronic devices is designed to be more captivating than the people we are surrounded by, and there is little incentive for real-life social interactions. We all know teenagers who feel awkward interacting and integrating in real life situations. There are even times when we text one another, even though we are in the same room.
The problem seems to be starting from when kids are younger, as fewer elementary and middle school kids are having fun and getting dirty on playgrounds, the old fashioned way. Many are glued to phones, i-Pads, gaming devices, and other gadgets. As these children grow into adolescence, they discover social media and more time -consuming online entertainment.
It isn't that the use of electronic devices is inherently bad. In fact, if used appropriately, reasonable amounts of screen time could have benefits. For instance: social media has been said to help many teenagers feel a sense of belonging, self contentment and social connectivity. It could also served as an avenue for emotional expression, identity development and a strong source of emotional support. This may be particularly so for teenagers navigating through experiences that may be otherwise isolating.
The problem we face as teenagers is the excessive use and abuse of social media and electronics in general. Many teenagers spend a large chunk of their lives online—hopping from one social media platform to the other, and as a result they don’t develop social skills or real world communication skills.
Social Media Affecting Communication Skills?
Research has shown that the average American teenager spends 9 hours a day with digital technology. That is approximately 60% - 70% of our waking hours. Sometimes this even eats into sleeping hours, which can lead to sleep deprivation and affect day time productivity and quality of life. And of course, this is in addition to many teenagers being already sleep deprived from homework and extracurricular activities.
For healthy socio-emotional development, teenagers need encouragement to spend more time having one-on-one conversations in-person, on the phone, hanging out, and investing time in learning new skills. I have had to make a conscious effort to disconnect from my devices and prioritize real life connections with my family and friends. I am also lucky to have a sister who I am able to interact with in real life, every day. When we talk to someone in person, we don't have the opportunity to plan out our response as we would if texting or online. Teens need to learn the skills to engage in conversations spontaneously and thoughtfully. But, this can only come with practice. When texting a friend, we can immediately tell from their facial expressions and body language whether they think what we've said was funny, offensive, kind or rude. Online, you can only see what someone chooses to show you. They may have been offended by something you said, but could pretend to be okay in order to avoid confrontation. Learning to read body language and respond appropriately to it are some of the important parts of social development that teens may be missing out on when interacting online.
How to Form Relationships Offline
It is important to form meaningful relationships and friendships that go well beyond social media and technology. But it may require special effort. Here are some tips:
Engage in face-to-face conversations. At our home, we have rules that forbid anyone from bringing electronics to the dinner table. This helps us have meaningful face-to-face conversations which in turn helps us strengthen our bonds and relationships. Having face to face conversations with your friends, family, neighbors, teachers, etc., will help you gain confidence in direct communication . Try talking to that kid in your class that you have never spoken to. Start with just hello and a smile. It may end up being the beginning of a new friendship.
Explore your hobbies, volunteer, and take part in group activities. Pursuing a hobby with like-minded people, or joining a team sport is a good way to meet people and form relationships. Find ways to connect in real life with people who share your interests. It could be dancing, poetry, singing, painting, or whatever else you enjoy. This will help you hone your skills while also forming social connections. Consider inviting friends over to play board games or just gather over snacks and drinks.
Limit your social media time. Social media can be fun and even beneficial if you don't over-do it. It can help you maintain long-term relationships, especially with family or friends who live far away. However, make sure you aren’t spending too much time on it. Set yourself a time limit, and avoid exceeding it. As you become intentional about interacting in-person, you’ll find yourself better able to harness the benefits of social media.
Thanks for reading. Now, go form connections offline! :)