With all of our technological connections it’s easy for us to feel like we are being social, and yet, many people report feeling lonelier than ever before. Other people mistaken interactions on social media as meaningful connections with others. Below Screenagers explores this social media phenomenon and how it relates to relationships.

Do your kids think social media has made our society more social, or less? Plain and simple we all will benefit from looking deeply and honestly at this question. This week alone I heard two stories about social media and disconnection as well as one story of a teen who decided to limit her social media to promote connection.

The first story came via an email that a high school counselor wrote me, “I had a conversation with my students yesterday about friendship. Most of them said they did not have any true friends. I asked why and they said they couldn’t trust anyone because of social media. One minute they think they have a friend and the next minute they are talking behind their back.”

The second story came from a father who was telling me about his ninth-grade son. He described his son as introverted and said he spends very little time socializing face-to-face with friends and yet he is often on Instagram and tells his parents that he is social. The dad is concerned about this disconnect—so little time with friends and yet a sense that these small online interactions define what his son thinks of as his social life.

In the recent book, iGen, Jean Twenge shares survey data in which 31% more 8th graders reported feeling lonely in 2015 than in 2011 and 22% more seniors felt lonely in 2015 than in 2011. Sadly a higher percentage of adolescents report feeling lonely now than any time since the survey began in 1991.

So what are the solutions? We all want our kids, and ourselves, to have healthy, meaningful in-person friendships. The reality is that we need to be more intentional. One way is to encourage your kids to join in-person groups where social media is not present, and face-to-face relationships are nurtured.

A teen I spoke to last week decided to delete Snapchat from her phone for a month for Lent because she often feels left out of things—seeing what everyone else was doing made her feel lonely. In preparation, she contacted her close friends and told them what she was doing, and they should contact her via text. Two days after she deleted Snapchat she told me how much happier she was not to be reminded what others were doing without her….she said with a big smile, “Ignorance is bliss.”

For us as adults what are the things we do to promote, and hence model, our own need, and appreciation for supporting friendships? This week I decided to go for a short walk and knock on a neighbor’s door, just to connect with someone I like. When I sprinted out the door, I didn’t know which neighbor’s door I would knock on, but I knew I had to act quickly before my time-pressured, stay-at-home self took over.  I ended up having an excellent 10-minute discussion with an old acquaintance in her doorway, and then I ended it with saying how great it was to see her and invited her to knock on my door anytime, and then I was off. It was short and sweet, and perfect.

Let’s explore ways we can increase our face-to-face connections with others. Here are some questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Who would you like to spend more time with in person?
  2. How might you connect more with your neighbors?
  3. Do you think social media has made our society more social or less social?
  4. What are some of your favorite thing to do with friends online? Face-to-Face?
  5. Do you have friends you consider close but you mostly interact with online?

If you have loved one who is struggling with their ability to connect with people in person call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.