I often hear parents complain that kids are losing the ability to socialize in person because of their dependence on social media and electronic devices. When I watch my daughter send text messages to her friends who are standing only a few feet away, I’m inclined to agree. However, an article in the January 2014 issue of Wired magazine gave me a different perspective.
In the article, “The Parent Trap: How Teens Lost the Ability to Socialize,” author Clive Thompson argues that kids want to socialize in person, but their parents are preventing them from doing so. In an effort to protect their kids from danger and harmful influences, parents keep their kids holed up at home, bouncing from activity to activity, or limited to a controlled social circle of arranged playdates.
When I was a kid, I was free to wonder, explore, and socialize as I saw fit. I would hang out at my friends’ houses during the summers, meet them at the local fast-food joint after school, and go to the mall with them on the weekends. I enjoyed being in the presence of my friends. They accepted me for who I was and allowed me to express myself without judgment. Of course my mother had guidelines, but she allowed me to hang out with my friends without her direct supervision. Her main rule was that I had to home before the street lights came on. Because of this freedom, I learned how to deal with different types of people and adjust to different environments.
Today’s generation craves this same freedom and acceptance. That’s why they spend so much time on social media. Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat allow them to interact with their friends in a way that’s unstructured and free from their parent’s constant hovering.
After reading Thompson’s article, I realized that I was guilty of being overprotective and limiting my children’s social activities. I recall one time when I was reluctant to let my 10-year son ride his bike around the neighborhood with his friend. I eventually let him go because I realized I was being a bit irrational and allowing fear to cloud my judgment. My son is very social and needs these types of interactions to be fulfilled.
I teach a class for parents called, “Teens and Social Media: What Parents Need to Know.” Parents who attend the class are often baffled at their teenagers behavior and dumbfounded by the popularity of social media. They say things like: “I don’t understand why my daughter is constantly staring at her phone” or “All my son wants to do is play around on his computer.”
I have to remind them that connecting with friends is an important part of their children’s lives. Whereas we had more opportunities to socialize face-to-face with our friends, our kids have neither the time nor the freedom to hang out the way we did. Therefore, they are making social connections with the tools that are currently available to them.
Socializing online is not a bad thing. In fact, I spend several hours online each day interacting with my friends. However, kids need more opportunities for face-to-face interactions. I encourage parents to release the reigns and allow their kids to hang out the mall, go to summer camp, attend sleepovers, and ride their bikes through the neighborhood with their friends. You may discover that your kids actually enjoy communicating with their mouths in addition to their thumbs.
Join the conversation: Are parents responsible for kids’ losing the ability to socialize in person?
photo by ekppanou via Flickr Creative Commons