We know that many young people are feeling disconnected from friends and at the same time, others have been able to maintain a sense of closeness to friends, if not many, at least a few.
And, we, parents, are concerned about our kids in these incredibly challenging social times. I have spoken with several teachers and school counselors who feel these concerns for their students too.
Your youth has the internet to connect with friends, but it sparks worry that they also have all the internet risks. Can you relate to this as a parent? They are no longer talking with friends over an old fashion telephone; now they are dealing with actually SEEING what they have been left out of, seeing ongoing intense negative news, and the list goes on.
Today though, I want to suggest we focus on talking with our kids about appreciating any goodness that is happening in their friendships — and in what ways has our tech revolution been helpful.
Here are some ideas to spark productive conversations related to friendships, both in general and now, during COVID. As always, I will put suggested discussion ideas at the end, but I also include them throughout.
What Are The Essential Components Of A Strong Friendship?
Starting with that question is a wonderful way to think about current friends and ones from the past. Over the years, I’ve asked kids this question, and it is not surprising that most often their answer is, “Someone I can trust.” This answer is most common from middle schoolers.
When we talk about the issue of trust, someone in the discussion invariably talks about a friend who betrayed their trust. From there, I will gently ask about how things got resolved.
It is so important that kids know that a strong friendship does not mean things have always been easy peasy. Often, our most precious friendships are the ones in which we experienced some hardships. The kids I talk with usually nod their heads when I talk about this, for they can remember arguments, exclusions, and other issues that have transpired with good friends. Perhaps right now is a good time to use technology to reach out to a friend and try to work out a conflict that still lingers — ideally using FaceTime (or the like).
Have Any Friendships Been Strengthened Recently?
One teen said that a silver lining about online schooling is that she has recognized her truest friends and has been able to focus on them, and not be distracted and “annoyed” by other people.
How Are People Making New Friends?
Some youth feel that they have gotten to know someone better by playing video games with them. I have spoken with students who have started study groups to get to know new people. A ninth-grade girl told me last night that she knew a girl for a couple of years in school, but they never talked much. Now they are in a study group together over Zoom and getting to know each other, and she feels hopeful this will develop into a real friendship.
Have You Made Connections With Any Past Friends?
Does your child have an old friend they haven’t seen for a long time? Maybe you can surprise them by having their old friend from say, preschool be on a Zoom call with you and then you tilt the screen to your child with a big “SURPRISE” do you remember …?
What Social Skills Are Helpful?
We talk a lot in the education space about “social skills,” but what does this mean? What comes to mind for your kids when they hear those two words together.
One example is being an active listener — but how do we know when someone is being an active listener? I try to repeat back at times points someone has made and, of course, ask questions about what they are talking about.
Another great skill is when people take the time to ask other people questions about that person. People love it when people show interest in them. Other examples of skills include being able to navigate conflicts well and skills around being respectful of others. For example, working to ensure everyone in a class gets a turn to talk and working to stay engaged with what they say.
One final point. So often, I hear adults say things such as, “Social skills really only happen when kids are in person with others.” I strongly feel that it is not either-or. Being mindful and skillful at how one relates to people online is very important. In-person skills and online skills share similarities and have many differences. Discussing the ways they are similar and different is key. One question could be, “How do you show empathy to a friend online vs. in person?”
Here are additional ideas for conversation starters:
What are the positive friendships happening in our lives right now? And how has technology helped?
Has your circle of friends dwindled, stayed the same, or expanded during this time?
Do you think you will want to spend more in-person time with your friends once it is safe than you did before the pandemic?