Teaching Kids to Connect in a Disconnected World

By Kristy Dillender-Hoyt

My stepson just started high school where I used to teach.  I was asking him if he knew some of my old students by telling him their first and last names.  He wasn’t too sure and told me, “You know, kids today don’t really know each other’s last names.  If we don’t know a person we say their instagram name like Nick1125.”  This shows how dependent this generation is on electronics, but it more shows that kids aren’t connecting with each other on a personal level.  This surprised me but made me think of all the times I watched students sit in silence during group projects or look at me baffled after I asked if they asked the person next to them for a pencil before asking me.  But it raises the question, do kids today know how to connect with each other?  Let’s take a look at a few things we can do with our children to help them learn to connect:

  1. Cultivate children’s unique qualities. Everyone is unique, and we need to teach our children to recognize their own unique qualities.  When they feel support in exploring these qualities they can gain self worth by feeling accepted for who they are as an individual.  When our children feel valued they can withstand the up’s and down’s of everyday social interactions because of their sense of self worth and having confidence in knowing they have something to offer.
  2. Teach boundaries around electronics. We all can attest to the fact that electronics are a major cause in children’s social delays.  If we set up certain times or time limits when using devices such as after homework or after family time we help them learn to have personal relationships not just likes and dislikes on statuses. Let’s show them how freedom from their phones, tablets or videogames can enrich their relationships with others as they practice time with others. This is key to teaching kids to connect in real life.
  3. Give children responsibilities. These responsibilities can be a wide assortment of things from household chores, clubs or sports, learning new skills like baking and so forth.  This way they can learn to communicate on a working or friendly basis.
  4. Hold weekly family fun nights and family meetings. Family fun nights should be a time to engage with one another and make memories to talk about during Thanksgiving diner. Activities can include playing games, or going out for ice cream. Weekly family meetings give children the opportunity to learn to express their thoughts or feelings in environments where they feel safe and respected so they can then express themselves. In these meetings you can discuss household chores, announcements for individual family members and even accomplishments in school or extracurricular activities.
  5. Model empathetic behavior. We can demonstrate connecting with others on a personal level as they see us visit with our friends, solve a puzzling situation, clear up a misunderstanding or meet new people. We can use “I feel…” statements so they can see it is okay to talk about how they feel and to hear that other people have feelings too.

As parents, teachers and youth leaders of any kind we care about these kids we are with on a daily basis. Not only do we care about them but they are also the future. Let’s help our children learn to connect with each other and have positive healthy relationships. At the very least we can teach them to learn people’s last names.

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Kristy Dillender-Hoyt grew up in the bay area, where she lived in the fog until she spent high school and college in rainy Oregon. Most of her time in Oregon she worked with children and youth in schools and youth programs.  She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Spanish and is currently working on a Masters of Education.  She finally lives in the sunny part of California with her blended family, consisting of a busy toddler, a silly baby and two teenaged step kids who won’t stop growing up.  

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