Connecting in the Digital Age
Digital Connections Can Create Meaningful Relationships
Studies now show teens are using smartphones and social media to effectively develop meaningful relationships and enhance existing friendships. Parents are also taking advantage of the digital age to amplify the love they have for their children. What’s more? These connections are not coming at the expense of in-person and real bonds.
A 2018 study reveals that minutes spent posting, liking, and sharing don’t take away from actual time spent with close friends and family. In fact, no consistent link was found between social media use and how much time individuals spend visiting friends, talking on the phone, or simply getting out of the house.
Another report finds digital contact actually enhances friendships. This is because conversations online can be open-ended, taking place throughout the day and when teens come home from school. Additionally, discussions on social media allow teens a valuable opportunity not available in-person: longer stretches to control their emotions. Adolescents can use the time it takes to write and send a message to consider their feelings. They’re able to craft a careful response, perhaps, rather than responding rashly if the conversation had been in-person.
Make Digital Interactions More Beneficial
Even with this upbeat news, there are still plenty of opportunities for making online interactions even more rewarding.
1) Make Comments and Make Them Public
Posting on social media is not a frivolous act. Connecting online enables teens to understand different points of view and helps teens develop their identity. Posting on a friend’s Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook wall also ensures more people are aware of the connection they share, likely boosting your teen’s self-esteem. Also importantly, parents can use social media to cheer their teen on in the digital age. By sharing your child’s accomplishment online, you magnify your pride by making sure his or her friends know about it, too.
2) Support Your Teen’s Online Friendships
Just because your child has developed a connection online don’t jump to the conclusion the friendship isn’t real. Yalda Uhls, author of Media Moms & Digital Dads, writes: “To adults, social media seems separate from the ‘real’ world. Yet, most teens see no division. Today’s youth, who grew up with mobile technology ever present in their lives, have seamlessly integrated their online and offline personas.”
Uhls believes the benefits of social media – fitting in, social learning, self-esteem – outweigh the costs.
3) Show, Don’t Tell
Intentionally model the kind of in-person and online connections you want your children to have. Show them the positive ways you use social media to reinforce your relationships. Caroline Knorr, Senior Parenting Editor for Common Sense Media, offers this suggestion: “You can say things like, ‘I love it when Aunt Sally posts pictures of your cousins. We can’t always get to visit them, but I love being able to see them grow up.’” Teens learn by watching adults in their lives and they’re quite aware of what makes their parents happy. As a result, children may be more likely to stay in touch or keep you updated via social media when they eventually leave the house.
4) Encourage Meaningful Connections
The possibility of connecting through hobbies and talents is ideal. Relationships that stem from shared interests and passions have the capacity to be strong and enduring.
Remember though, teens benefit from parental involvement. Parents can help make this kind of outreach safe and productive. Knorr suggests helping children weed out connections that aren’t positive. She instead encourages the strengthening of “…relationships that validate what they’re into, enrich their lives, and help them learn new things.” These may include groups with special interests, such as a fan fiction forum or music-sharing groups.
5) Embrace Routine Communications
Teaching our children and ourselves to regard phones, and the messages that come through them, as tools for meaningful connection is critical. Children are able to demonstrate how much they value their friends and family by how well they stay in touch. Even texts that seem insignificant – a message that indicates they got to a party safely or what time they’ll be home – express an appreciation of the relationship. This is true for parents as well! A text from a parent that communicates love is always a great idea. Try sending your child a simple heart emoji! I’ve sent my teenage children hearts in red, blue, and purple. The color just depends on my mood.
With nearly 60% of teens reporting they’ve made friends online, finding ways to make these bonds even more rewarding is top of mind for all of us at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. And while children need to be aware of inappropriate online activities — cyber-bullying, for example — social media makes the vast majority of teens feel more connected to their friends. And that heightened sense of connection is all too important for their short-term and long-term social and emotional development.