Our family is a member of LifeTime Fitness, a large fitness and wellness chain in the United States. For the past 7 years we have really gravitated to this particular gym because we can get our sweat on … but, also because it is inclusive of a children’s and adolescence health program. All of this being said, our membership affords us a subscription to a monthly magazine they produce around health, Experience L!fe. I always get a little giddy when I open the mailbox and see the latest magazine awaiting my attack, and this month was no different! I received the June 2016 addition and strategically waited until all voices and little feet were out of the house so that I could enjoy looking thru the articles without interruption. I am glad I did because an interesting article was included that caused enough intrigue that I wanted to write about it. The topic is around social connection.
Why is this intriguing to me at the juncture? As most of you know, M (my son) is a pre-tween and over the past months he has been more drawn to his iPhone, his X-Box … and, let’s face it, anything that affords opportunity for technology social interaction. On the cell phone, I expected him to want to text friends. But, I didn’t see the X-Box side of it coming when he just wants to get on a game so he can talk the entire time with his earpiece. And, man, he can be so loud! I never realized how animated he is when playing a game J But, I am also finding his social gaming is withdrawing him from a desire to spend his time in other social connecting activities.
More than half of me understands – the digital age has been around since he was born, – but, I am not as much surprised as my husband (G) is to the natural gravitation M has on these things. But, there is large percentage of me that holds internal confliction for the addictive thirst M is forming on these devices, and all that comes with them. Therefore, you can hopefully connect the appropriate dots as to why the article, Real-Life Connections in the Experience L!fe magazine peeked my interest.
I thought I’d share two things in the post: (1) The top 5 social connection exercises they offered, and (2) Some of the most interesting points, and perspectives, I obtained from the article.
The Top 5 Real-Time Connections You Should Encourage You and Your Kids To Do:
- Make A Date. I’m not suggesting a romantic moment here! This falls more in line with the goal to schedule and go out somewhere with a friend. Perhaps coffee Saturday afternoon … go for a walk with a neighbor … etc. For M, I think encouraging him to meet friends up at the school courts for some basketball over the weekend (without the cell phone – GASP) … organize a flag football session at the park with 3-4 friends … or, organize a board game night here at the house one day in the summer where he can have 3-4 friends come over – technology out – and it’s all about Monopoly, Battle, whatever … but the premise is there is no technology! Games – popcorn – conversation.
- Get Creative With Your Dialogue. Everyone in the U.S. says, “How are you doing, today?”. Let’s seriously mix it up a bit! I know I always stun people when they ask me that question and I actually respond in an expressive way, like: “I am AMAZING today – what part of your day has been amazing?” So, why not surprise every once in a while and instead of asking how someone is doing – ask other interesting questions like: “Anything cool happening today for you?” … or “I really hope your afternoon goes better than planned” … or dare I throw out there, “Do it bold or go home!” People sometimes fall for fun one-liners like that! You never know what will put a smile on someone’s face J I guess the point here is to get out of the mundane habit here and be open to changing up your social conversations.
- Get Inclusive. Join some groups that force you out, like a book club … team sport … volunteer activity … school club … cooking class … the sky is the limit! But, DO IT J Again, having opportunities to meet new faces and get to know other’s experiences … tones … facial expressions … goals in life, etc. is really rewarding and we still learn from these interactions.
- Sometimes (and I am really guilty of doing this, so I am having a moment of self-reflection while typing this) I go into a conversation with an agenda in mind to what I want to say and get across. There used to be a book I’d read to M called “Listening Ears”. It was about a mom always explaining to her son, “Elliot, use your listening ears”! Super cute book, but it now applies on a different level. If we just sometimes go into a conversation only listening we can get so much more out of it. So, dare to listen. Heck, I may have to put duck-tape in my purse so that as I try this exercise I can give myself a fighting chance!
- Make A New Connection. I did this recently and was SO happy! I was selling an item on Facebook and when interacting with a potential buyer for the item we quickly realized in dialogue how much we have in common and now we interact every few days just to see what’s going on with each other! No, this isn’t an online dating service by the way!!! I was baffled and surprised that I made a new connection. We are now planning on coffee soon and I couldn’t be more excited! A similar thing happened when a buyer came by my house to pick up an item – she was so lovely and ended up talking for 30+ minutes about how she just become a grand-mother and was enjoying life. It was such a rewarding, unexpected, moment.
So, now that I’ve shared some ideas to re-introduce social connections I thought you’d like to end it with why this is even something you may want to give a darn about. All of the points below I took from the article I read. I am definitely not trying to come across as the expert, and am only summarizing in points what was shared in the article:
- Based on recent research done by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of U.S. adults own a smartphone and send, on average, at least 40 texts a day. And, it isn’t that they used these in a moment of isolation – these adults cited they predominantly were texting and receiving texts when they were with others – including their children!
- Another recent study performed by the Harvard Kennedy School (whoo-hoo … go Crimson!) shows time spent having face-to-face dialogue and interaction amongst family members has declined by one-third since cellular phones have become mainstream. (By the way, what is equally sad is the same study indicated family dinners around the table and vacations also declined by one-third. I am sure there is more to it than just having a cell phone … but, clearly real-time social connection in general has declined – [enter sad emoji])
- The human was built in such a way that we rely on observed patterns in facial movements, posture, hand gestures, tone in voice, touch, and even body language to develop and activate parts of our brain that helps us process and interpret someone’s feelings. In fact, let’s not forget the research conducted years ago that identified touch was as crucial to a baby’s survival and development as was sleep and food. Another funny fact to the importance of touch is a study that concluded for athletic teams that performed more “celebratory touching” (like fist bumps, chest bumps, high-fives) actually won more games than teams that did not!
- I remember reading this before but am thankful for the reminder: we get doses and shots of dopamine when forming unconscious habits of checking messages, texting, etc. And, incase you aren’t aware, dopamine drives the desire for more dopamine. Can we say addiction?
- A professor from the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology, Dr. John Cacioppo, has found elevated stress, interrupted sleep, inflammation, and diminished immunity are at high probability when an individual feels loneliness. Just like we innately yearn to fulfill thirst or hunger, in his professional view, loneliness should be placed as equal in our need for something … and if we deprive ourselves of fulfilling it a negative impact occurs. So, you may be saying: This isn’t profound science here – so how does this even correlate to social health? Loneliness increases levels of cortisol (a stress hormone). It also triggers and increases levels of epinephrine. These two can cause chronic inflammation, which correlates to causes of chronic disease – YIKES!
- And, from what the article implies, engaging in social media and online personas serve as a form of self-protection from anxiety felt during face-to-face dialogue and interaction. What we forget is that “When others recognize and accept us, flaws and all, we learn that our thoughts and feelings have value … learn how to acknowledge, respect, and connect with other people’s experiences. These are the building blocks of empathy, which is crucial to any relationship.” (Page 59). This is quite important given the correlation Dr. Christine Carter, a senior fellow at the University of California-Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center cites: “It is one of the best predictors of educational and professional success – even better than IQ.” (Page 59).
All-in-all, I am happy I took the time to read this article because it does make me realize I should put more attention to influencing M (and myself) to putting equal time to real-time social connections, not just online connections. I think both are fulfilling but putting dominance in one shows the effect of deprivation we cause other areas in our life. I want M to thrive both on and offline and am going to try and incorporate some of the Top 5 things above for the both of us J
I hope this blog was an enjoyable ready for you as much as it was for me to write. I’d love to hear any comments or additional ideas you may have when you’ve kept meaningful connection with your kiddos, family, friends, etc.
– XOXO, Bridge
CREDITS AND CITATIONS:
Rogers, H. (2016, June). Real-Life Connections. Experience L!fe, 55-59.