Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Social Graces vs Social Networks

There is a battle raging in our society. On one side there is the group that urges use of social networks, and instant messaging as a way to stay connected. The other side talks about how we are losing out ability to relate to people due to all this connected isolation. The impact of technology will probably take decades to truly evaluate, but I would like to talk about how being connected is impacting our kids today and possibly for their future. Everywhere you look, kids are plugged in to some gadget. Earbuds are a necessity. Some classes use ipods and instant messaging as part of the teaching mechanism. Kids are connected to more people now than ever before. But are they truly engaged? Part of a child's developmental task is to learn how to interact with other people. This includes interpreting facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. Is it possible to gain this kind of experience from a device? Interaction with other people cannot be replaced with a " how to" manual. From infancy, a child learns to engage others by crying, laughing,and being cute. Babies are created so their brains absorb information at a rapid pace and in huge amounts. A child can learn when another playmate is upset by the changes in the child's face and body. You can't get that from a program or words on a screen. Eye contact is a huge part of how we inter-relate. Most employers will confirm, the best interviews are with people who offer good eye contact. Prospective employees must learn how to be socially adept, how to be personable and get along with others. Our kids are spending less of their time with people and more with mechanisms. They spend most of their time texting their friends, answering instant messages and posting on their social networking pages. All of this has its benefits, but it also can take away a vital part of being human, the ability to relate on an emotional and empathic level. Our kids need opportunities to develop social graces through personal contact with other people. We must give then the opportunity to practice these through parties, play dates and good old fashioned talks. The next time you are trying to figure out what to do to entertain the kids, try dragging out board games. These offer problem solving skills, interaction and fairness of play plus turn taking and following the rules. It also allows kids to learn that not everyone can win all the time we need to learn to lose just as well as we win. Help your kids learn to relate in person to other people. No machine or program can do this for them.

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