Recovering Our Fading Social Skills
By Dr. Jay Greenfeld
Summer appears to be in full swing and we have been quite fortunate to have the season we have had thus far. We have experienced a good mix of intense heat, some nice rain storms, and everything in between. As summer accelerates past the midway point, it is easier for our children to rely on using technology more often. After over 40 days off of school, there are only so many things that can fill 15 hours of free time with! It can be a full time job to ensure that our children are occupied both physically and intellectually throughout these long summer days. One advantage we have is that their friends are also not in school during summer. However, it has become very apparent that the more advanced we become with technology, the more distant we become from each other, parents and friends included.
We have become so much more comfortable with our phones and keeping ourselves at a distance from one another, that we are forgetting some of the basic social skills. We order our food through a screen with little to no verbal communication, we do most of our banking without needing to talk to anyone at the branch, we can order our groceries online, and when registering our children for activities, we do not need to speak to anyone as most forms are accessible via the web. All of the aforementioned are very convenient, but along the way, we are losing basic skills. Therefore, when it is time for our children to interact with others or have prearranged play dates, they often become hesitant, uncertain, and quite anxious. It is not to say that our children do not have friends or cannot make friends, the reality is they are maintaining many of these friendships through screens without ever needing to go to the other person's house. As a result of this limitation prompted by technology, when other children need to engage in basic social skills, they often become shy, hesitant or struggle to express themselves. However, they can spend hours talking to one of their friends online while they play a video game. On the contrary, talking to the person at the checkout line at the grocery store becomes dreadful for them. We are losing the opportunities to socialize and practice our basic social skills, limiting a key component for preparing our children for their future.
Gaming can be a lot of fun (e.g., playing, creating, coding, and watching others play). However, if your child's gaming habits limit them from engaging in basic social skills, it is time to make some changes so they can feel more socially aware, confident, and independent in the process. For many reasons, we do not want them talking to strangers, especially when they are by themselves. Thus, I would strongly encourage you explain to them that it is important that they know who the person is that they are playing with online as opposed to just their screen name. Be firm and specific when outlining rules for online play. It has come to my attention that every video gamer between the ages of what appears to be 6 and 60 seems to engage in some time with Fortnite. If your children are playing a game like this, ensure they know who they are playing with or against. Moreover, if that is something they are excited about and motivated to do, ensure that it is balanced with the practice of very specific social skills.
Have your children practice the art of initiating a conversation with others they see within their community (e.g., teachers, others parents of their friends, clerks, servers, tellers etc.). Enroll them in programs with children who share similar interests. Empower your children to help them connect with the people involved within their community and take an interest in the lives of others. If they are not needing to say hello or engage with others upon first being introduced, they will lose that skill. Practice that skill over and over until you no longer need to remind your child to say hello or take an interest in the lives of others. The same idea applies to finishing an interaction. Ensure your children say basic things like: "Thank you for coming over."; "It was great to see you again." Although these skills may seem basic for some, many children are opting out of using them because of the Anxiety that it tends to create or simply not needing to because their parent will do it for them. The less our children use these basic skills AND the less we use them ourselves, the further away we can become from connecting with others.
So, as summer makes its final lap on us here and we approach the Sunday of the Summer, use this primetime opportunity to pay close attention to how often you may be avoiding social contact because it may save you time or it may appear easier, and practice engaging with others. Then shift that focus to your children and have them engage with others; initiating dialogue, taking an interest in others' lives face-to-face, and overcoming any of the fears they may have by with conversations. If we lose our ability to converse with others face-to-face, our children will soon follow.
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