Swipe Less, Smile More: 5 Strategies for Fostering Social Interaction in Children

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Despite the name, social media isn’t very “social” at all. It’s a well-known fact that people’s social media profiles are often highly edited and beautified versions of their real lives. Plus, there’s no easy way to tell if the person claiming to be a 12-year-old girl isn’t actually a 40-year-old man. Kids don’t have the life experience and skills necessary to spot what’s real or fake online. Therefore, they are frighteningly susceptible to social media deceptions.

Children who spend too much time swiping and not enough time interacting with real people are at a serious disadvantage. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, teens who scroll social media for more than three hours each day double their risk of anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, it’s now common for kids as young as 12 years old to have social media accounts. If you want your young ones to develop well mentally and socially, have them swipe less. Here are five strategies to help your children become more socially engaged in the real world.

Fostering Social Interaction in Children

1. Encourage Your City to Invest in Safe Play Areas

Some kids spend inordinate amounts of time online because there seems to be nothing else to do. If your neighborhood doesn’t have enough kid-friendly outdoor spaces, your young ones won’t see any reason to be outside. Even if you have a playground in your area, it won’t draw visitors if it’s too small or contains outdated equipment.

In either of the above cases, you can put in a request for your city council members to drive positive change. Ask them to install a neighborhood playground if you don’t already have one. Or, ask your city council members to update old playground equipment so local families have a safe place to play. Strengthen your request with data showing the benefits of outdoor play for children. You may also wish to create a petition for an updated park and invite other local parents to sign it.   

2. Enroll Your Kids in Extracurricular Activities

Bored children are more likely to get caught up in social media than children who have a lot to do. Enrich your young ones’ social lives by enrolling them in fun and rewarding extracurricular activities. Some good options include youth sports, local drama departments, and private music lessons.

Extracurricular activities can help little ones develop social skills. They can also teach things like perseverance, problem-solving, and cooperation. Finally, when you enroll your children in confidence-building clubs and activities, they’ll be less likely to turn to social media for approval.

3. Make Family Memories

Some kids may try to create relationships on the internet because they don’t feel close to their own family members. If you want to help your children grow up with a healthy view of themselves and others, start at home. Work hard to establish and maintain strong family relationships built on mutual trust and respect. One great way to do this is by focusing on making family memories. Emphasize spending time together in a fun, screen-free environment.  

There are many fun and exciting ways to build family bonds and make lasting memories. Prioritize annual family vacations and enjoy frequent family day outings. If your budget is tight, take a road trip to save on airfare. You can also find plenty of low-cost activities to do outdoors together, such as fishing, hiking, and rock hunting. When you take the time to develop strong family bonds, your kids will be less likely to seek validation from strangers online.

4. Set Up Play Dates With Other Kids

High-tech societies are generally considered more advanced than low-tech societies. And yet, growing evidence suggests that technology is hindering one of humanity’s most basic skills: communication. Technology can lead to distracted communication, misunderstandings, and lack of engagement. On one hand, social media and smartphones are making it easier to reach others instantly. On the other hand, kids who primarily text or message others through social media apps often struggle to communicate verbally.

It’s important to help children maintain face-to-face social skills with their peers. You can help in this area by setting up regular play dates so your kids can play with others. Consider taking turns hosting play dates with other parents in the neighborhood. As your kids interact with others, they’ll develop sharper social skills that will help them become well-adjusted adults.

5. Read to Your Children Daily

Reading can help young people become more familiar with everyday language. Books often illustrate how to solve problems and work through difficulties. Readers can also learn how to resolve conflicts from the experiences of their favorite book characters. These skills can help children improve their daily interactions with their peers.

It’s a good idea to read to your kids from a young age. But don’t forget to encourage them to spend time reading to themselves as they grow older. Research shows that reading fiction can improve social-cognitive abilities. So, if you want to raise socially adept humans, encourage your young ones to read more fiction.   

It can be hard to raise well-adjusted kids in a society that’s hyper-focused on clicks and likes. But with effort and consistency, you can win the battle against screens. Use these strategies to foster social interaction in your children while teaching them how to swipe less and smile more. 

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