I recently conducted my monthly social skills groups for children. The session’s topic was on communication skills. I have been running these groups for about a year now, and I continually notice the deficits our youth today face when it comes to communicating. It specifically hit me this session when discussing, and educating the groups on effective ways to communicate with others.
I try to stay current by showing YouTube videos and using apps on the tablet, alongside group activities, to keep the children engaged in the session. As I was preparing for this particular group, I started to worry as I was not finding good electronic material to use. After scouring the internet for material with no luck, I got an idea. I thought about the impacts technology has on our youth and realized that I was trying to accommodate the “new times” instead of focusing on the real, immediate need; face to face communication. I decided to take the route of disconnecting from all electronics during that session.
As you may have predicted, my kiddos were surprised when walking into the room with no electronic stimuli present. I asked them to put all electronics into a basket until the end of the session. They reluctantly followed the direction and proceeded to participate in the session. The session began with an overview of the day’s topic, followed by a partner communication activity. The children were asked to give specific directions to their blindfolded partner who was searching for the hidden eggs. Watching the pairs work on communicating with each other through directions and active listening was a fun and joyous sight. After each child had a chance to give and receive directions, the pairs worked together to discuss some of the communication skills that were found inside their eggs.
Reflecting back on this experience, I think the most rewarding piece was seeing the children’s excitement as they left the session. They saw how fun it was to actually interact with friends and it seemed as if some real, positive connections were made. The group members seemed to forget about their devices in the basket for those 90 minutes. This success, for many of these children, is a huge accomplishment. It not only provided opportunities for the children to engage with one another, but it built their confidence in themselves. They can make friends!
However, the children were not the only ones who learned a valuable lesson that day. I too saw the positive outcomes of disconnecting ourselves from electronics. Social skills are a key component to our society, but can be negatively impacted if our communication method is strictly through text messaging, snap chats, and other electronic approaches. I believe the change can start with us, the adults who influence our youth. What we model as adults can pave the way for what our children view as normal behavior.
This phenomenon is not only present in today’s youth, but also in our society as a whole. I will admit, I do love some social media and reality TV time myself, but have been trying to decrease my electronics usage to strengthen the relationships in my life.
My challenge to all you readers is to take some time away from the electronics to build connections with yourself, others, and the environment. Ideas may be family dinners with the phones away, going for a hike, reading that book that has been on your list, inviting someone to meet up for lunch, or a walk in the park to name a few. Encourage your children to take some time to explore nature, use their imagination, and interact with others face-to-face. I think you will find yourself connecting in a meaningful way.
Let’s model the change we hope to see in our youth and disconnect to connect.
Kelsey Kjellsen, MC, LAC