Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree
In my practice and personal life, I interact with many children. I am always curious about what social trends are actually happening as opposed to those being blown up in the media.
One story that doesn’t seem to get much play is the fact that America’s children seem to be very isolated from their peers. They don’t seem to have close friendships and they rarely see other children outside of school, unless it is an organized sporting activity or a rare “play date” that is arranged totally by parents. These activities don’t allow for kids just hanging out and conversing; which plays a major role in developing appropriate social skills.
I hardly ever hear stories of children leaving their house and knocking on the door of one of their neighborhood friends and playing. The whole concept of spontaneous play is almost nonexistent.
One reason why children seem to be less connected to their friends is that parents are afraid to let their children out of their sight because of the fear they will be abducted. While some neighborhoods are indeed too dangerous to play outside, there are many areas that are perfectly safe. Cable television runs stories of missing children 24/7 on the airwaves, but most missing children are runaways or kidnapped by a family relative. A child has a better chance of getting hit by lightening than being abducted by a stranger in America.
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Another reason that children spend less time with their friends is that with the increase in the cost of college and the cutback in the number of available upper educational slots, there is enormous pressure for children to excel academically and in extracurricular activities such as sports, student government and drama.
Parents are so busy working 50 hours plus per week and driving their children to classes that will increase the likelihood that their kids will get into a good college with perhaps a scholarship, that there is no time for children’s friendships to be formulated and enhanced.
I will try to make a case here that parents make friendships a priority for their children.
- Creating friendships develops life skills that will increase your child’s wisdom, confidence and self-esteem.
- Children will learn the meaning of true friendship. They will learn that a good friend will have their best interests at heart and have their back. Someone who is not your friend will not have these qualities.
- They will learn how to deal with conflict and adversity. Conflict does arise among friends and as parents you will find perfect opportunities to teach your children how to navigate through conflict.
- They will have peers to communicate their concerns, dreams and fears which will make them feel less alone and isolated.
- When they become older, they will have childhood memories to fall back on- remembering how joyful it was like to hang out with friends.
- If you as parents sharply curtail your children’s use of video games, texting and other electronics; children playing together will learn to create interesting, collaborative activities.
- The children will get a sense of building their own community when they establish new friendships.
- The opportunity to develop leadership skills increases as children play with other children.
- The ability to make decisions is increased when children play with peers without micromanaging from adults.
- The opportunity of playing freely with other children helps them develop their imagination which is important for a child’s development.
- Playing with a several children will allow them to know how other families operate and they won’t feel shocked when faced with a family situation that is somewhat different from their own.
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