If someone were to ask me if I have a good connection, I would expect I would assume it was in reference to whether I was able to to access WiFI or if my phone charger was working properly. But in this particular instance, I am referring to connecting to others.
I’m currently reading Rising Strong by Berne Brown. She has articulated a simple truth so clearly. Its common sense that seems more and more to be getting lost in our fast paced world. She reminds us that the truth is that we are made for connection. We are made for true connection to others. This is not the type of connection we find on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. This is true connection by sharing ourselves with others in real relationship and getting that in return. I am not suggesting that social media avenues are bad and they do allow us to connect on a certain level with folks that we don’t get to see on a regular basis and can keep us up to date on people, places and things we are interested in. But when we start to fool ourselves into believing that this is true connection, true relationship, thats when we need to reexamine.
Not only are we made for connection, connection keeps us mentally healthy. I won’t bore you with statistics but our teens are more anxious and depressed than ever before. Why? What is different now than in years past? We as a society, are losing true connection to one another. Our teens are losing the ability to have conversation, preferring to “talk” without ever uttering a word to one another. I have at times had to reinforce the point to my own teens ( and even remind myself) that sometimes what needs to be said shouldn’t be done with a text or through IM in our favorite app. I treated myself to a manicure today. I was there a couple of hours as its a Saturday and lots of people had the same idea. A young mother was there waiting with three young boys in tow. They were very well behaved , talking quietly to each other and just observing their surroundings which impressed me to the point that I complimented them when I left. I also noticed their mom. She had her back turned away from them, hunched over her phone the entire two hours they were there waiting (It was really busy!). I never saw her once engage in conversation or in any way give attention to her kids. I know nothing about her except what I observed that day and as I said, her children were very well behaved. Perhaps that was the only time all week in which she wasn’t a fully engaged and present mom. Goodness knows we all need a break and maybe this was hers. But we’ve all been in restaurants where we see everyone in the family on a device and no one interacting in any way. Its so common place today does anyone even think twice about it? My point is only that we need to be intentional as to where we focus the majority of our energy. We need to be aware what habits we are modeling for our kids. Are we connecting more to the people in our lives that are in front of us or more to a screen? Who and what are we connected to? What are we communicating to the most treasured people in our lives if we have a pattern of focus that is not related to the tangible people in front of us.
A different form of connection is feeling like we fit in. I am teen of the eighties. I was like any teen now or then. I wanted to fit in, wanted to to look “right” and wear the “right” clothes (shoulder pads and big hair anyone?). What we didn’t have up until relatively recently however was an ability to carry around with us images of what the “right” thing is 24/7 and be influenced by “influencers”, comparing it to what we look like, what we have and who we should be.
My own teens have for many years been keenly aware as to what is cool, hip (they probably wouldn’t use the words cool or hip) and “right”. They have this awareness in a way that is totally all encompassing because of social media, who they follow and what is popping up on their feeds.
As a population our teens as a whole are more depressed and anxious than ever before. They are connected to to WIFI and to the internet, to Instagram and Snapchat but is that sufficient? Is it sufficient for any of us? As a therapist working with adults and teens suffering with anxiety and depression issues, I would say no. As a mom who hasn’t always gotten it right when it comes to social media or just parenting in general (if you know someone who tells you they have it all figured out, you know they are lying!). I want us as a population to gain confidence in training our kids for connection.
As I write this we are just a couple of weeks out from the horrifying mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. One thing I noticed in the media coverage of these horrendous crimes was the description of these killers as possibly part of a new phenomenon-young men totally disconnected to most everything but video games. This may only be speculation with regard to these particular incidences and certainly other things factor into these tragedies, but the fact that that disconnection was discussed at all was both a sad commentary on our society and at the same time a little encouraging. We can’t change disconnection until we recognize its an issue in our homes, schools and communities.
While obviously the disconnection described as a possible factor with these killers is extreme and in no way indicative of what most of us experience in our own struggle with disconnection either in ourselves or our kids, the fact remains that anxiety, depression and loneliness are on the rise- no matter how many likes or followers you may have. So, what to do?
As a parent, set limits that make sense, recognizing every family is different and what works for some may not work for others or may need to be modified to suit your family. Maybe its no phones at the dinner table (for adults and kids). Research shows that family dinner is one of the most important things we can do as families to stay connected. It doesn’t count as a family meal if you all just eat at the same table while consumed in your own screen. Perhaps its activities that provide face to face interaction such as sports or special interest classes like art or music. Having a time at night when after which phones/social media are off. Doing something such as instituting a game night with good old board games. Conversations with our kids about being ok with ourselves and who we are despite what influencers try to tell us. As adults be engaged and fully present with each other and with our children. Its super easy to have an iPad distract our kids so we can have peace but if thats our go to all the time, are we losing connection in the process?
I am someone who has social media accounts and two kids in their late teens who use Snapchat entirely too much- this stuff is hard to navigate for all of us. But I believe that we can do some relatively simple things that can help us connect and demonstrate and encourage our teenagers to connect. When we make the effort, we will be giving our kids, significant others, friends, and communities the best part of ourselves and the gift of connection.