"Mom, can I have your phone?"
"No, we're here to spend time with friends, so go play with your friends instead, not phones."
"BUT MOM! No one wants to play with me. EVERYONE is playing with their phone!"
I could hear the exasperation in my 6-year-old’s voice. Heads and eyes down, her friends were playing with smart phones or tablets.
It's a Lonely Social World
From a technological point of view, we live in a world that is more connected than ever before. With a phone in hand, I can get in touch with family and friends overseas; search for any information I need; even drop an email to the Prime Minister of Singapore!
It was reported in January 2014 that Singapore has the world’s second highest social media penetration rate at 59%, more than double the global average of 26%. The study by We Are Social also claims that on average, Singaporeans are more connected to the Internet as compared to the rest of the world. Yet many lament that we’ve lost our community and kampong spirit. Is social media creating an illusory world of connectedness while we regress in our ability to share emotional connection in its simplest form of making friends?
A 1998 study from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that increased Internet use led to a decline in communication with friends and family, and increased depression and loneliness 1. A more recent study in 2013 by researchers of Leuven University in Belgium found that increased Facebook use by individuals can undermine well-being and increase loneliness 2
When Facebook and Twitter entered cyberspace with dings and whistles, I honestly could not understand why anyone would want to tell their friends or the world that they were having breakfast, feeling ‘meh’ or ‘blah’ or have a stockpile of breast milk in the fridge. But hey! Look at me now, I’ve joined in the foray.
Social media makes it so easy for me to curate a specific image I want others to see before I sit back and survey how others respond to it. The series of hard questions we need to ask ourselves as parents are:
- Am I guilty of this?
- What am I role modeling to my children?
- Do I show my children how to make friends by first connecting emotionally with them?
How to Build Great Relationships
Numerous studies have shown that having empathy, building relationships with others, self-control and self-discipline are strong predictors of successful people rather than intellect. With an overemphasis of academic achievement and intellectual ability, let’s not raise children starved of social and emotional development.
How can we help our children to build truly great relationships? In their latest book Growing Up Social, Dr Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane tell us how we can raise relational kids in a screen-driven world by teaching them to show affection, appreciate others, deal with anger, learn to apologize, and pay attention.
AFFECTION. Children learn to give affection when they receive affection from you. They don't receive affection from the latest toys, electronic games or computers that you give them as rewards or substitutes for affection. Every family needs affection to thrive and affection comes in the form of eye contact, hugs, appropriate touch, affirming words and being physically and mentally present for them.
APPRECIATION. Raise an appreciative child, get an appreciative adult. Raise an entitled child, get an entitled adult. "I deserve that" and "You owe that to me" are attitudes children pick up easily. Teach children to wait for what they want. The most bored children in the world are those whose parents give them everything they want. Grateful kids realize that the world doesn't revolve around their wants and needs. Teach children to say "please" and "thank you" rather than allow them to demand or throw a tantrum for things. Help them to think about what they can be thankful for on a daily basis – get them to write thank-you letters to teachers and friends, perform an act of service like bake cookies to give a friend, or help with household chores.
ANGER MANAGEMENT. Parents do their children a great service when they teach them how to deal with anger in a positive manner. When a child gets angry, don’t try to distract him or her by offering a video game or his favorite food. Distractions, delays or deflections won't help your child learn to process emotions in a healthy manner. Don't allow yelling or screaming in the house – parents included. Many times, children mirror what they learn from parents. Practicing reflective listening, asking questions to find out the reason behind a child's anger, teaching problem solving skills are just some methods parents can use to coach their children towards maturity in handling anger.
APOLOGY. When rules have been broken, restitution needs to be made. Immature adults continue with childish behavior and tend to blame others for their mistakes instead of owning up. Accepting responsibility for one’s words and actions as parents is the first step in teaching your children to apologize.
ATTENTION. Having a lot of screen time correlates with the inability to pay attention due to poor listening skills and a need for strong guidance. Constant digital stimulation creates attention problems for children who already struggle with self-control and making healthy choices. The solution? Read books! Reading is a foundational and multisensory experience for every child. A child learns to stay focused on the written word, expand creativity through the power of imagination and strengthen attention-span muscles.
So the next time when you are using your laptop or phone, rather than settle for a paltry text of 'LOL' and emoticons, let's actually take the time and effort to enjoy a good laugh out loud with our spouse and children, to connect with them eye to eye, emotion for emotion.
To find out more on how you can learn and apply these parenting skills, join us in a Parenting with Confidence workshop.
Copyright © 2014 Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd. Excerpted from Growing Up Social by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane.
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1 Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukophadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet Paradox: A Social Technology That Reduces Social Involvement And Psychological Well-being? American Psychologist, 53(9), 1017-1031.
2 Kross E, Verduyn P, Demiralp E, Park J, Lee DS, et al. (2013) Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841.