Raising Socially Competent Kids

Focus on the Family
Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane

No doubt you have seen your kids with their eyes glued to a computer screen, television or mobile device. And you may have wondered how technology is affecting them. The moving pictures on television, in video games and in apps are extremely stimulating, and a child’s brain is particularly sensitive.

In fact, you might say that those brains are made of plastic. Brains can change and adapt to what they are exposed to, a concept known as neural plasticity. Brain connections can be strengthened by use or weakened through neglect — the “use it or lose it” principle, according to Dr. Jay Giedd from the National Institute of Mental Health.

With increased screen use, the neural connections used for listening and learning, concentration and conversation are often neglected. Furthermore, kids who heavily use technology become “wired” to use their gadgets to communicate instead of talking face to face with people.

Social skills are not built on a phone or computer. They must be practiced in real life, beginning in the home, where loving parents model what healthy relationships look like. Yes, technology is here to stay, and you’ll likely find positive ways to utilize screens and gadgets in your family. These are amazing days when families can keep connected over long distances with photos, videos and instant messages. But if you don’t minimize and counter the influence of screens in your family’s life, when your son finally meets those relatives face to face, he may not know how to simply sit and visit.

As you work to build a home where children are shaped by real relationships, focus on these five critical social skills:

It’s ironic that an electronic device that connects us to people around the world can also work simultaneously to separate us. Kids can grow more attached to their devices than to friends, teachers and relatives. Family members who share an address often live separately in their own electronic worlds. The result is that we’re becoming much less affectionate toward each other.

We have a daily golden opportunity to model affection to our children — through a hug, a conversation, clearing the dishes together, or taking a jaunt to the ice-cream shop. Don’t let these opportunities slip by! Tell stories to your kids, make things together and pursue conversation every day. Listen actively and respond with empathy.

It’s our job to fill our children’s emotional “tanks” with the affection they need to fuel them through the challenging days of childhood and adolescence. Spending two hours playing a video game cannot add fuel to a child’s emotional tank.

While you are with your child, be all there. Your child will learn from your example. He will see that people who are physically present deserve more attention than digital connections.

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