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Challenge: Kids and Technology

6 Tips to Teach Social Skills in a Smartphone World

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There’s never been a time in history when we’ve been so incredibly connected – yet disconnected at the same time. Look around; it’s hard to find a person – young or old - who doesn’t have a smartphone, tablet or both in their hands nearly 24/7. While technology does give us new ways to communicate, it often robs people, especially our children – of basic social skills.

So what can we do to make sure our kids have the social skills they need to thrive with family, friends, and on the job? As parents, it’s time to be more intentional than ever about teaching manners and the art of communication. With our help, kids can succeed in a technologically-driven world that still values interpersonal communication.

Here are a few Parenting 2.0 tips to help you help them:

1) Be their best role model. That whole “do as I say, not as I do” thing is history. If we want children to be fully present in the moment, to engage in conversation at the table, to be polite and aware of others, to connect and communicate at a high level without a swipe of a screen or a tap of a key...then we need to lead by example.

Put your own phone away while engaging in family time or one-on-one time with your kids. Use “please” and “thank you” liberally throughout the day and in every possible situation - to the waitress at a restaurant, the coach on the field, the neighbor in the drive and with our kids when they put their toys away. Teach them by example to look people in the eye and shake hands. Be their best role model to learn how vital politeness and kindness are to being a good citizen and well-rounded person.

2) Practice makes permanent. Don’t assume your kids know the intricacies of good manners. Times are surely different but social fundamentals such as how to introduce themselves to adults, how to graciously accept compliments, and how to show respect take practice just like anything else.

Use role-play exercises to help kids learn how to ask clear and articulate questions. Review topics for small talk when engaging with others, and talk about what is and isn’t acceptable in polite conversation. Practice good phone skills as well – you know – when they have to actually SPEAK on the phone rather than let their fingers do the talking.

3) New expectations for holiday gatherings. The upcoming holiday season comes with boundless opportunities for kids to put their new social skills to work. Holiday parties, family gatherings and school functions will put them in contact with a variety of people where they can test out their new trove of manners and conversation skills.

Encourage kids to leave the devices at home (or at least in your bag for most of the day) so they can experience how much fun it is to listen to family stories, lend a helping hand in the kitchen or play board games with cousins and friends. Those are the memories that will last a lifetime as opposed to whatever they are staring at on their phone in the moment.

4) Take social skills to the next level. Once your kids have shown they have the basics down, it’s time to up the ante and the social skills expectations. Teach them to write out their own thank you notes, address people by name, and take initiative to start conversations with adults. These skills will not only help present them as well-mannered children – but they are skills they will take into adulthood when meeting new friends, dating – and of course – potential employers.

5) Take a textcation. Texting, social media and technology are here for the duration. As parents, you get to set the standards – and the limits for how much screen time your kids get. Let kids know how much tech time they are allowed each day and be clear in advance about consequences for not adhering to your family rules. Keep certain times of the day free of phones and computers, and create quiet, technology-free zones in your house.

6) Encourage progress. When you see your kids stepping up to introduce themselves, looking an adult in the eye or engaging in face-to-face conversation - be the encouraging voice that lets them know you’ve noticed and you’re proud of them. Keep reinforcing those skills and continue modeling what it means to be a good communicator in a digital world. When they know that you are watching – and that you’re there to cheer them on, they will continue to rise to meet your expectations.

While digital communication is here to stay – so is the need for good manners and strong communication skills. By taking time up-front for training and giving kids plenty of opportunities to practice their social skills, they will be prepared to succeed in a world that will always value manners and good old-fashioned, face-to-face communication.

Wishing you the best and happy parenting!

Parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. Learn more about free training webinars with Amy McCready.

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