Tips for Building Youth Social Connection
There are many ways to build healthy social connections especially because young people need to have meaningful connections with parents, other trusted adults (like teachers, mentors, coaches, and other family members/or friends), and their peers. This list is meant to provide some ideas. It is not meant to be exhaustive of all the ways you can build connections with or between young people.
Building Connection With Your Own Child
Ask your child how their day was, every day. Try to ask specific questions about events like how a club meeting, practice, or rehearsal went. Use homework as a conversation starter! We can all identify with homework stress or frustration. Talking to your child about frustrations like this, lets them vent, but also shows them you can identify with them, and provides an opportunity for you to assist when needed. Create and stick to rituals: Friday night pizza or tacos; getting your nails or hair done together; following a specific team or watching a specific show--all of these provide space to connect. Deepen connection by limiting distractions when you talk to them or are spending time together. This can mean making a “no phones or TV during meals” rule (that EVERYONE follows) or asking your child to ditch the headphones/earbuds during shorter car rides. This may also mean things like not checking your own phone or tablet for work emails outside of work hours or while taking time off. Ask if you can follow them or be their friend on social media and try following some of the celebrities or influencers they do. Knowing the trends and content can introduce you to new things to talk to them about. If you do see things like harmful/hurtful language or other causes for concern this can also be something to bring up with your child. Go for a walk, hike or bike ride together. Even small amounts of physical activity are good for everyone’s health AND you can use the time to catch up. Volunteer with them! Volunteering together can take some of the pressure of having to have a long conversation with your child that may seem awkward if it’s been a while since you’ve connected.
Building Connection Between Your Child and Their Peers
Talk to YOUR child about social connection regularly. This is important for two reasons. First, understanding if your child is struggling with loneliness, isolation, or unhealthy relationships with peers or romantic partners is the first step in both helping through your relationship as well as potentially connecting them with counselors or health care providers if necessary. Second, discussing the importance of not making others feel hurt or isolated, and noticing when peers might be feeling lonely helps create connected environments. Commit to building more in-person connection opportunities for young people. Driving to the mall? Going to a movie, a museum, the farmers market? Grabbing a bite to eat? Ask your pre-teen or teen if they want to bring a friend. In-person activities almost always build peer relationships better than online ones. Encourage participation in things like school or community clubs and activities
Tips for Connecting With the Additional Young People in Your Life
Drive a bonus kid to or from school or another activity? Hanging on the field/or at the gym pre- or post-game? These are great opportunities to show young people you care about them. Ask how they’re liking school, sports, or another club so far this year or term. Comment on something great you heard they were up to. Just haven’t seen them in a while–ask what they’ve been up to! Connections can take time, but we all have to start somewhere. Long distance? Haven’t seen someone in person for a while? Send a text or message on social media. Let young people know you’re thinking about them and hope they’re doing well, but you’re there if they need to talk. Host a neighborhood night! Show a fun movie or set up a few board games. Host a potluck or make cooking a pizza or baking cookies part of the fun.
Not a Parent? Not a Problem!
These tips can be easily adapted to grandparents, older siblings and cousins, cool aunts and uncles, and anyone trying to build meaningful and supportive relationships with the young people in their lives.