How to Encourage Your Kids to Stay in Touch with Friends in a Tech-Healthy Way
Have you ever wished you had kept in touch with friends from years past? Life comes at you fast, and staying connected isn’t always easy. Parents can help their kids develop healthy ways to stay connected with friends. This can help them maintain those bonds well into adulthood.
Never before has there been so many ways to reach out and stay connected. Advancements in communications technology and online resources help people connect from anywhere in the world.
Kids are often far more tech-savvy than their parents. They’re growing up in a world where everything seems linked to technology in one way or another. Teaching them how to create and maintain healthy bonds using technology is important.
Begin by sourcing a safe phone for kids that allows parental controls. Kids need boundaries and oversight as they learn how to navigate the digital world, and having the right phone is a good place to start.
Create clearly defined tech time limits
Staying in touch with friends who don’t live nearby is challenging. Sure, encouraging your child to write letters and send them through the mail would be great. But that’s not likely to be easily embraced when they can connect in real-time using their phone.
It’s important to create healthy boundaries when it comes to how much screen time your child has. That’s true even when their activities are perfectly healthy, like bonding with friends.
Discuss the amount of time that should be spent keeping in touch with friends. This is a great time to point out that with limited hours in the day (and limited screen time) choices must be made. Isn’t it better to spend that time interacting with friends rather than watching videos or scanning social media?
Also, be sure to protect bedtime as an absolute device-free zone. Nothing is more important than getting a good night’s rest, and the bed is no place for screens.
As parents who grew up in a distinctly “unwired” world, it’s hard for us to relate to a world in which kids have “friends” they’ve never met. While there are certainly healthy online connections, there is also a real risk of harm.
Talk to your kids about what it means to be and have a friend. Emphasize the benefits of real-world friendships. These messages are likely to resonate in a way that warning against dangers will not.
Kids are inherently opposed to thinking that anything bad will actually happen to them. Don’t bang the drum of “you don’t really know who you’re communicating with.” Instead, focus on the benefits of keeping in touch with friends who have moved away or people your child meets at camp or during travel.
Use your phone to schedule “friend time”
Every phone has the ability to create schedule reminders. There are also tons of apps that will help you make a schedule. It’s easy to forget about far-away friends when faced with homework, chores, and other obligations.
Use a schedule to remind you to reach out to friends. Maybe you can create a standing Sunday afternoon FaceTime meeting, or a Zoom call that links buddies from different areas.
Maybe you simply need to have a scheduled reminder to call a friend once a month or so. This avoids letting so much time pass that you feel awkward reaching out again.
Talk about the benefits of staying in touch
Most kids (and many adults) need to think about an issue multiple times before the benefits truly sink in. Be sure to talk to your kids about how important it is to stay in touch.
After all, they have an opportunity to remain linked with friends in a way that we never could. By the time your child becomes a grandparent, they could have connections with people they’ve “known” for many decades.
After your child connects with a friend on the phone or through video, talk about how good it feels to see that person and find out what their life is like. These little reminders will normalize staying in touch for your child, and make it a lifelong habit.
Practice what you preach
It’s one thing to tell your child how great it is to stay connected in a tech-healthy way. But are you modeling that behavior in your own life? It’s easy for parents to become so busy doing adult things that they fail to keep in touch with their own friends.
Make it a point to check in with friends in the presence of your kids. Talk about how nice it is to reconnect and catch up. Don’t make a big deal about it, but show your children that there is value in nurturing friendships, even with people you don’t often see face-to-face.
Balance the good with the bad
Many parents are so worried about the potentially negative effects of technology that they forget to focus on the many positives. The fact is, there’s no way to completely eliminate technology from your child’s life.
Finding ways to send balanced messages to your child about the role that technology plays in day-to-day life is important. Point out the fact that maintaining friendships is one of the most powerful benefits of technology.
Limit use of filters and camera effects
When connecting through some video platforms, kids have seemingly endless options for filters, camera effects, and other ways to alter their appearance or voice. While these tools can be fun from time to time, be wary of allowing them to be part of every conversation.
Far too often, kids rely on these special effects to “carry” the conversation. They can easily spend their allotted phone or computer time playing around, instead of creating or expanding real connections with friends.
If your child enjoys using filters or camera effects, have a talk about how and when to make appropriate use of them. Once they think it over, many kids will create their own “rules” on how to connect, which is a great lesson for self-regulating behavior into adulthood.