What We’re Tracking This Summer: Social Interaction

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Last summer I shared a reading list we prepared for our children and how we planned to encourage, track, and reward time spent reading.

We still want our kids to read. They enjoy reading. We’re glad! And we’re already off and running in the reading department.

But this summer we’re facing a different challenge: saccharine substitutes for social interaction that are made available through technology. We limit screen time and only subscribe to a couple of different streaming services. Television is not our greatest temptation and is far from our default activity. Instead, our biggest time vortex is text messaging, YouTube, and a couple of other social media services. In our household we’ve limited access to social media, but we encourage our children to interact with their friends and stay in touch through a messaging app. We see the connections and conversations as positive. But we’re aware of the pitfalls.

What’s our foremost concern? At Forbes, psychologist Mark Travers writes, “Social media can create a false sense of connection and belonging. Online interactions lack the nonverbal cues, physical presence, and emotional intimacy that are crucial to building and maintaining meaningful relationships.” Online interactions are illusory. They aren’t a zero calorie substitute, but they are a lite version of social interaction. You feel like you are in community, but those connections lack the depth, satisfaction, and opportunities for growth in social aptitude that in-person interactions yield. We want our children to connect with other human beings beyond the limited capacity that the online spaces allow.

Many of our summertime in-person interactions are built into the calendar. We’re participating in camps, church life, teams sports, sending our kids to the pool, encouraging play with neighbors, trips, and family time around the dinner table.

But to make sure we’re balanced, we’re adding evaluation and intention to our weekly planning conversations.

What will we track, and how? Each week, Molly and I plan to cover a recurring to-do item during our weekly family meeting: “Evaluate Kids’ Total Social Interactions for the Week, Create Opportunities.” After taking a quick tally, we’ll adjust our plans accordingly.

Routinely taking stock will help us see how we’re doing. Locking down screens is a step in the right direction. But we have to do more than cap screen time. We’ve generated a list of activities our children can choose from (with their help) during downtime. However, we’ll also proactively plan time with friends, people they’d like to deepen their relationships with. We’ll invite their input along the way.

A little bit of boredom is okay. Boredom is often the first step on the way to expressions of creativity. We want our kids to rest, unplug, relax, and find renewal during the summer months, too.

We also want them to learn the art of conversation, to make connections, practice friendship and develop social skills. The best way to do that is presence with people. As parents, we create those opportunities for connection. That’s our responsibility. Then, we cross our fingers. The rest is up to them.