In the Digital Age, kids may learn quick and easy relationship skills online, building rudimentary, occasionally fulfilling connections. The development of these online relationships often takes the place of relationships offline. The skillsets required for each being different. Each takes time and energy to develop, resulting in a different worldview on what a “normal” human relationship looks like.
Unfortunately, social skills learned on the web are often impossible to apply successfully in the offline world. As kids grow up, they become less and less able to create healthy social relationships. And this difficulty becomes evident quickly and painfully in a kid’s development. Digital Age culture does little to promote gathering in the real, physical world. So instead of learning to build strong, deep, intimate bonds with their peers, kids have a shorthand code for interfacing from a safe distance. Protected from any potential discomfort, they detach enough from the messy reality of social entanglement to be able to engage in it without the help of a manual.
Of course, the more heavily one relies on plugging in, the more difficult and uncomfortable it may be to unplug and behave with natural ease around others in offline social life. When, with the help of messages from peers and the media, this reliance reaches a pathological level, it creates a situation in which a young person can hypothetically skip learning critical social skills almost entirely. Kids who do so may be left spinning their wheels in the chaotic confusion of space between online and offline life. It is at this juncture that parents may come in handy.
Parents are able to slow down and stop when it really matters. When kids are deeply upset, their world does stop and parents need to stop with them.
Kids who feel loved, valued, cherished, and worthy of attention and respect have the self-confidence necessary for making healthy choices. They exercise critical and independent thinking in complicated situations both online and offline. When these kids struggle, they know that their parents are there for them. They know that when they are overwhelmed by a problem, they can come to their parents not only for problem-solving but also for comfort and support. Secure in the knowledge that they can rely on their parents for these things, kids develop something precious: faith in themselves. Parents who see their children’s expressions of emotion as opportunities for intimacy and teaching empower their children to apply the lessons they learn in these moments to similar situations in the future.
Instead of giving in to attending and reacting to an overwhelming influx of stimuli, attend to yourself as parents. Are you making time for your kids? Are you only reacting to their emotional expressions or are you slowing down to share their experience, to think and empathize with them, to help them navigate the difficult process of growing up? Are you present with them in the everyday moments to share love, support, and insight, or is the Digital Age getting in the way?
Read more on the Digital Age blog series.