It Takes a Village: The Support System is Vital

“In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”
— Aristotle

One universal truth is that friendship has the potential to make life sweeter. And it takes a village to raise your child. Sometimes, this support system comes virtually–in the form of social media and online support.

What I want to dig into today is how does the need for friendship work in your modern—quite busy—village, and what impact—good or bad—does social media have on friendship goals for both you and for your kids.

Let’s dig in.

The truth about the importance of friendship

When I speak to parents and children about the online world, I’m often asked what my best advice is for your modern kids. My answer is always the same: Surround yourself with good people. There’s a reason for that; a lot of reasons, in fact.

Many studies have shown that friendship boosts happiness; that good habits are “catchy” among friends; and that having close friendships makes you more likely to have someone out there watching out for you and being your soft landing—dropping off a latte on a rainy day, recommending an inspiring book, encouraging you to schedule that doctor’s appointment that you’ve been procrastinating making that phone call for.

Going one step beyond these benefits, motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said, “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.”

This is the focus that I lean into with kids. If you purposefully surround yourself with the people you admire, you’re on the right path.

As adults, we learned this via trial and error through the years, hopefully, eventually landing in a spot with a friend to lean on in laughter or tears.

When I’m at the height of busy-ness with my family—juggling activities and homework and deadlines and feeling like, at best, my husband and I get to give each other a high-5 as we pass on the way to and from kid activities—I feel this lack of balance within my friendships; like I can’t reach quite far enough to lean in where I want—and need—to.

The busy part of our modern world definitely doesn’t help me realign. But, do I daresay, that the tech-y part of our world DOES help?

Hear me out here.

Can social media BOOST your friendship up-keeping abilities?

I know that this part of this article should call out how social media is ruining your and your children’s abilities to connect with others.

In a Psychology Today article, Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, Saul Levine M.D., wrote, “Friendships have to be cultivated and nurtured to be meaningful over years. Social media supposedly enable[s] people to make new friends via sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and myriad others, but unfortunately some of these online friendships are more “virtual” than real. Many of these “cyber-bonds” are often anything but meaningful, and can actually be a way of not engaging deeply with others. In the guise of generating friendships, the Internet can ironically serve to keep people apart. Social media can never replace the authenticity and intimacy of face-to-face interactions.”

While there’s obviously merit to this opinion—many, many, truly many people have written about it—I wonder if the issue is more with HOW we’re using social media rather than social media itself.

For instance, when I’m feeling disconnected from my friends and I physically can’t create any more hours in the day to make it to a Girls Night Out or to go for a walk with a friend, sending a text does my mindset a world of good.

Or when my closest friends live across the country from me—which many of them do—seeing a photo of their children instantly makes me smile.

And in terms of giving me the ability to do a good deed, donating to someone’s Crowdfunding campaign, sending a virtual high-5, or even just “Liking” a photo makes me adrenaline-pumping happy.

And when I need a boost? Asking for it on Facebook and receiving support from people who otherwise might not have known that I needed them, quite literally, soothes my soul.

Fact: The line between the “online world” and the “real one” is more of a blur than a true line

The days of the online world “versus” the real one are long gone. Your social media presence IS your real presence. Instead of separating it out—and making it different than your physical, in-person life, which I would argue is one main cause of those feelings of jealousy and inadequacy that you’ve read about as well as those awful actions on social media that are still shocking because they’re cruel, not because they’re new or uncommon—you have to learn how to have a healthy relationship with technology, which begins with addressing it as a part of your life.

And yes, this includes within friendships.

This means that using technology to boost your friendship circle or the closeness within it is positive, not negative, when used purposefully and correctly. It’s a (modern) skill to be learned.

In an important article on BlogHer titled, “Don’t Tell Me They’re Not Real: Internet Friends Are Real Life Friends,” writer Jenna Hatfield wrote, “But the people who live in my computer (and smartphone, for that matter) matter just as much. The connections, the care, the love? Those are all just as real. The stories we share with each other in our online spaces bring people into our lives. It’s then up to us to do what we want, what we can, do with those people.”

And what about your children?

The universal truth about friendship making life sweeter is true for your children, too. I probably don’t have to tell you that! When I was in my first year of classroom teaching, I spent days—weeks?—preparing for my first Parent-Teacher conferences. I had work samples, handwriting examples, and academic goals filed within colorful, neatly stacked conference folders. I felt prepared to give my students’ parents exactly what they needed.

But what I was missing, was what they actually wanted.

The (wise) teacher from the classroom next door to mine told me that what most parents want to know is that their kids listen well and that they have friends—someone to sit with at lunch, to play with at recess, and to partner with for Math games.

And she was right. These were, indeed, what all my students’ parents wanted to know more than anything else that I had prepared to share with them.

And today, as a mother of three, I completely understand and feel the same way.

Friendships are not only fun, they also provide school’s soft landings for hardships and guides in what your kids will view as good choices and how they will choose to spend their time. This brings us right back to Jim Rohn’s quote about becoming the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Learning to choose these five people wisely is a super important skill!

Three parenting resources for you:

The discussion around responding to negative peer pressure isn’t new. I remember it as a frequent topic of the After School Specials of my youth!

To get ahead of things, consider reframing this topic to peer influence using Rohn’s quote as a guideline. If your kids are surrounded my good influences, they are more likely to make good choices.

Bottom line: does social media hurt or help your and your children’s friendship forming?

If used correctly and purposefully, social media can absolutely help you boost and maintain your and your children’s friendship circles.

Make sure to teach your kids:

  1. The skill of surrounding themselves with good people.
  2. How to use social media to connect.
  3. How to use social media for good.

Pay close attention:

The positive (friendship) boosts that social media can provide when used correctly don’t completely dilute the negative aspects.

Step right into the comparison and jealousy traps that pop up with social media use—these are very real and your children will need your help to maneuver them.

Resource for you:

In my book, Kindness Wins, I call this Greener Grass Perception and share tips for exactly how to discuss this with your children. You can read an excerpt of it RIGHT HERE.

One thing that has never changed is your and your kids’ need for connection and friendship. You can choose to see social media as a tool to help with this by proactively teaching your kids how to use it in positive, friendship-boosting ways and this is how you and your kids can still have a (modern) village.


 

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching your kids how to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. She believes that you can let your kids be online and still create a grass-beneath-your-bare-feet childhood for them. Get her guide with 9 things you can do TODAY to keep your kids safer online for free RIGHT HERE.