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How can we (and indeed should we) encourage children to nurture real-life relationships over online connections?

Young people, as we know, face a difficult time during the transition from child to adult. They face an identity crisis as, for the first time, they experience an increased sense of self-awareness and this can often lead to insecurity and low self-esteem.

The internet provides a space in which they can build relationships, ask questions and generally be heard, whilst remaining semi-anonymous and therefore protected from criticism or judgement. They can re-design themselves in any way they want, be this through the editing of their profiles or, simply, their choice of words.

My concern is that there might be danger in children taking these opportunities to redefine themselves online, instead of growing into themselves as human beings and beginning to learn that it's OK not to be perfect, that life and relationships are indeed messy, but that this is exactly what makes them so rich and valuable.

How can we (and indeed should we) encourage children to nurture real-life relationships over online connections and consequently their own, real-life identities?

  • Nov 12 2013: Turn off the computer. Mandatory time off from the computer and doing other things, like talking to real live people.
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      Nov 14 2013: I don't find it particularly apt to root out the problem in this way. I believe it is crucial to find out first why a child prefers online interactions over the real ones - is it because of their low self-esteem, position in the group, complexes, very introvertic nature and other. These are the real reasons of running away from the real world - on the Internet everybody can make themselves look better, be more interesting, bold, and sociable.

      In some extreme cases, I would advocate barring from the computer, but the computer itself is only a tool to cherish relationships in the way that is convenient because of some other reasons.
      • Nov 14 2013: I can get behind this line of thinking and support it. I see exactly what you are describing in student use of computers. They hide behind the screen, post in social media just to get a reaction, say that they are 21 when they are really 14, and so on. I would question whether being an introvert plays into the equation though, but not a major point of contention by any means.

        What I see, at a school with 1 to 1 computer to student ratio is a host of students who bury themselves in the electronic world to the point it harms their health and academic work. Students playing video games at 3 am rather than school work and not sleeping at night but sleeping in class. Even sitting side by side in the open spaces not talking because they are online doing other things rather than interacting.

        I do advocate for mandatory time off from computer use if for no other reason that for students to take a break from the computer and stretch their legs. I think a better way of setting it up is giving a time limit on the computer for studies and social media/games. But having a time limit or a time when the computer must be off.
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          Nov 14 2013: In this sense I would be an ardent admirer of this idea, even though I do value (or at least I used to value when I was a teenager) boundless freedom. Everything "mandatory" seems scary, futile and annoying by definition.

          I can speak from my own experience that online gaming (even at 3 a.m.) was a wonderful thing, not only because of the game itself, but thanks to semi-social interaction and possibility to learn foreign languages. At times it did interfere with my regular duties, but I knew these were the sacrifices I consciously made. My parents also strongly opposed my online activity back then, but I blamed it for their lack of understanding and a general generation gap.

          Right now, having finished all schools including graduation, I know it was in a way limiting, but I don't have the feeling that I wasted my time - that my life was partly ruined and I could have done so much when all I did was clicking virtual pixels. I am adamant that our virtual life cannot take over our real life, but I am fine with the idea that these two might overlap and - sometimes - one may feel like immersing in the abyss of the network.

          I think we agree here: too much pudding will choke a dog.
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      Nov 14 2013: says the guy on the internet
  • Nov 12 2013: I think both are good and necessary forms of communication. Like most other aspects of life, good balance is the key.

    There is indeed a need to nurture face-to-face relationships. As you point out, there are more aspects to this form of communication than purely words. However, there are some benefits to the on-line communication as well. For instance, you have to organize your thoughts into coherent sentences and paragraphs to be effective when words are the only communication tool. This is a much needed and powerful skill. Second, you exactly get a chance to read what you say before you say it and edit it as needed to clarify the message. Third, your words are typically captured for a longer period and in a more concrete way with blogs and e-mails. Fourth, you are free to respond as your mind tells you to respond with a focus on the information you wish to convey. There is no fear of interruption, loss of attention, or competition with other speakers-it is you and your key board. Fifth, written communication is generally blind to the age, race, gender, physical appearance, or emotional state of the writer, unless he intentionally or unintentionally reveals this information. In that sense, the quality of the information can be judged on its own merit. These are all good communication lessons.

    I am inclined to agree with Mr Pinter below in that they are similar forms of communication.

    You may be right about the 90%, but when communications become binding they are usually written.
  • Nov 11 2013: People need to do activities that require personal contact. Sports, discussion groups that meet in person, are a good starting point.
  • Nov 11 2013: We must increase family gathering and make home a peaceful,enjoyable and safe place for the children.they must adore to be with their parents and siblings.parents must be kind and patient with them and try to understand them and have fun with them.Parents must prepare situation that the children can bring their real friends to the house...
    Therefore children even dont have enough time to spend on the internet and have online connections!
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    Nov 11 2013: I think the over-arching problem with the digital connections we make is a matter of convenience. It is far easier to sit in front of a computer and interact with one's peers online then it is to hang out offline. Not only that, but we can be whomever we want in this digital world, while sheltering ourselves via relative anonymity.

    Perhaps the best thing that can be done to encourage children to nurture real-life relationships is for parents to foster their relationships with their children. Have dinner as a family, communicate, and turn off all electronic devices while doing so. Plan events in real life, free from TV, video games, computers, and other distractions. Get children involved in outdoor activities (hiking, skiing, swimming, camping, bike riding, running, etc.).
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    Nov 11 2013: we have this assumption here that online connections are not real. in what sense they are not real?
    • Nov 11 2013: They are very much real but exist in another kind of reality.
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        Nov 11 2013: in what sense other kind?
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        Nov 11 2013: well, except most of the nonverbal parts, every sense.
        • Nov 11 2013: I would dispute the claim that the verbal aspects of communicating on and off-line are similar.

          Conversations in real-life happen in real time whereas conversations on-line allow each participant extra time to edit their response, omitting the natural pauses and stumbles of verbal exchanges.

          In addition, neither is visible. Instead, acronyms and emoticons are relied upon as the main expression of emotion. As 90% of communication (in real-life) is NON-verbal, is it not important for children to develop the skill of reading and deciphering these codes?
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        Nov 11 2013: these delays are actually making the conversation more thoughtful. that is a good thing.
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    Nov 11 2013: Schools, community sports and activities, after-school activities, and family together-time are natural places for kids to engage with each other as well as with adults.

    I think people start having more difficulty living in a connected way once they have left school.
    • Nov 13 2013: Hi Dear Fritzie,I couldn't agree with you more:People start having more difficulty living in a connected way once they have left school'Because schools are really good environments for people to communicate to each other,especially for students to students,students to teachers.The relastionship among them is more reliable.students to Students:learning from each other,not concern so much competition or conflict of benefit yet.And students and teachers are more reliable:they are completely supporting each other.

      So it means the outside society of schools isn't reliable,not trusting...what caused that?just for surviving?not really,maybe greedy,it comes back to concern about education.Sometimes I question myself too:been greedy?sometimes we are suggested:change your attitude to think of things around u,you would have a widen space to breath.But the thing:Can we be aware of the changing port?I think sometimes reflection does help.