Could You be Modeling ‘Drive-By’ Digital Friendships to Your Kids?

digital friendshipsSocial media has rocked the traditional friendship paradigm to its core. We’ve succeeded in connecting with more people than ever but how many friends do we really have? How many people would we rush to be with in a crisis or sacrifice consistent time, effort, and tears for?

A friend, as defined Google dictionary, is a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations. Descriptors we could easily add to that definition is someone who is loyal, reliable, encouraging, trustworthy, easy and fun to be with, accepting, forgiving, and void of pretense and judgment.

So if we have 1,400 Facebook friends, how many of those match the above criteria? It’s an important question since how we spend our time is how we spend our life. And more important, perhaps — our kids are absorbing our every move.

The ‘new loneliness.’ 
In a recent study conducted by Dr. Mehmet Oz and Berland Strategy & Analytics on Women’s Health, Oz confirms that despite living in a hyper-connected world, women are more isolated than ever and subject to a new type of loneliness. The study revealed that 60% of women have feelings of isolation or loneliness and 20% experience this state most or all of the time. This epidemic, says Oz, is concerning because loneliness can threaten a person’s health.

During his September 13 show, Dr. Oz used the poignant phrase “drive-by friendships” to describe the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram world so many women (and parents) enjoy every day. We love this term because it offers a smelling salt to awaken us to a larger truth: Genuine friendships — the I’ve-got-your-back-no-matter-what people — cannot be casualties of the social media generation. Not for us, not for our children. We all need human connection.

The survey also revealed that women are 50% more likely to spend time reading about what their friends are doing rather than actually talking to them. Says Oz in a recent Huffington Post article about the study, “When women are following their friends on social media, they are three times more likely to simply read and like their updates rather than leave comments. This may be why some studies suggest that friendship on social media can actually make people feel worse.”digital friendship

A parent’s role
For parents, the study opens up a great conversation: Are we modeling genuine friendships to our children or how to nurture connection via clicks? Living in a Facebook world has its upside for sure — the positive stories thanks to social media abound. But, in the day-to-day, others-focused realm of our relationships, are we truly showing up? Are we bridging the gap between “likes” and real life friendships or widening it by social habits that increasingly disconnect us from one another?

In the busyness of daily life it’s easy to forget that our kids are absorbing our actions and that we are passing on the value (or non-value) of real friendship in our lives. Hence, when it comes to nurturing their relationships our children are either left with practical tools in their emotional toolbox or nothing much to grab on to.

So what can we do to bridge the friendship gap? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Be mindful. You don’t have to quit social media cold turkey. You just need to engage your heart (as well as your hands) when you connect online. If you’ve been feeding your friendships with clicks, do simple things like reading an entire post (akin to listening) and commenting instead of just liking. In short, listen with your heart not your eyes.
  2. Go that one extra step. In addition to commenting, send someone a direct message. Ask them about their lives, listen to their responses carefully, and offer an encouraging word. If prompted, arrange to meet face-to-face or even use Facetime on your phone. The point: To actually engage in meaningful conversations that build relationships and extinguish isolation.
  3. Call instead of text. The next time you pick up your phone to text, call instead. Real friendships will cost you in effort and time, and a call is the first step to deepening that friendship. Research proves that human connection curbs depression and anxiety. So reach out and connect.quote
  4. Make it happen. For many, life has become a spectator sport. Who hasn’t wasted a Saturday admiring pictures of people hiking, dining, going to concerts, or just out enjoy life? So make things happen — arrange to meet friends for coffee or lunch. Spend those two hours a day on social media talking face-to-face.
  5. Step back — just a little. It’s not either or. Social media is as much a part of our culture as watching the news, and no one is ready to give that up. Social is a go-to information source and rightly so. Just be sure to sure to keep a healthy balance and to model that balance to your children. This TED Talk by Sherry Turkle is a must see in changing tech habits that set us (and our kids) back emotionally.
  6. Phones off the table. When you do meet with friends, get in the habit of keeping the phone out of sight. Putting your phone away tells another person, “I care about you and what you are saying.” And, it gives us a chance to make eye contact, which is a big plus in any relationship these days.
  7. Practice solitude. Solitude and loneliness are two very different things. Solitude is a very, very good thing. Everyone needs quiet time alone to think and process life. When your children see you reading quietly, journaling, go for a walk or engage in a solo hobby. If we don’t teach our children to enjoy solitude, they will fear it and be prone to avoiding it through false connections online. In solitude, we learn to listen to ourselves and can better listen to others.

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Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family and @ToniBirdsong.