Back when Marilyn Randall was a kid, she didn’t have to send a friend request in order to become someone’s friend.
“When I see kids with their heads buried in laptops, or texting on cell phones, it disturbs me to think of how technology has changed the way our kids socialize,” said Randall, who has authored a series of children’s books on friendships including For Faithful Friends, The Best of Best Friends and Share From the Heart (www.marilynrandall.com). “Our social networks are actually raising our kids to be extremely unsocial, and I think it’s changing society for the worse.”
Randall’s point is that the way kids make friends, and learn how to value those friendships, becomes the way they look at friendship as they grow to adulthood. If the only socialization that our kids learn is from cyberspace, friendships will become less valuable in their lives, and as disposable as email.
“If we allow our kids to learn that all you need to do to make and keep friends is to click ‘accept friend request,’ then we’re devaluing the power of friendship,” she added. “Conversely, if all they have to do to end a friendship is click on ‘block user,’ then friendships become fleeting and easy to discard without a second thought. It also causes this ‘all about me’ mentality, prompting many children to grow up without consideration for others because they haven’t learned to properly interact with others.”
Randall wants children to learn about friendship outside of cyberspace, more like the last generation of kids who grew up without PDAs and ready access to Internet social networks.
“When I was a kid, we didn’t have cyberspace,” Randall said. “The only space we knew was where the astronauts went and the space in our backyards. We didn’t meet in chat rooms. We met at the park or the playground. And we didn’t just talk — we played and we interacted and we learned about the world around us through experiences together. I’m afraid the next generation of kids will miss out on that socialization because of their dependence on technology to manage their friendships.”
Randall’s tips for parents who want to help their kids better value their friendships include:
- Balance Cyberspace with Real Life — If your kids use social networks, make sure they actually get together with their online friends once a week to do something. Take the time to make your home available, even if their friends simply come over to share a pizza. Help your kids balance cyberspace with the real world.
- Limit Internet Use — A generation ago, parents would limit the amount of television they would allow their kids to watch, and monitor what they watched. Place time limits on the time your kids spend online in the same way, and monitor which sites they use to chat with their friends.
- Set An Example — Show your kids how you interact with your friends, and show them the value those long term friendships have in your life. If your kids see that you have long-term, close and fulfilling friendships with others, they’ll emulate those kinds of relationships in their lives.
“It’s ironic to me how the existence of all these different communication technologies has actually managed to make us feel more distant from each other,” Randall added. “We all have multiple email addresses, online profiles and cell phones, but somehow we feel more far apart than ever before. Maybe what we need to do is teach our kids to put the computer down, and go outside and play with their friends.”
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