Human connection is one of my favorite subjects to discuss with teens and young adults. We are hardwired to need and want the company of others so why is it so hard for kids these days?

A lot of my tween and teen coaching clients express concern about their ability to make and keep friends. While some of this is pandemic-related, I actually saw this trend prior to 2020; it’s no coincidence that teens’ ability to connect with others face-to-face began when many of them started using phones and fingers to communicate instead of eye contact and mouths!

I’m a big fan of delaying social media apps on phones for as long as possible (8th grade is the earliest I’m comfortable with it for a number of reasons) but devices, for better or worse, serve as a social life-line for kids. Giving a tween or teen a phone to text friends or call home is necessary these days. But the dilemma is this: middle school is the time when adolescents learn social skills and cues from others. Developing these skills involves talking, making eye contact, understanding body language, reading the room, picking up on tone of voice, learning to be spontaneous, developing a quick wit and fast sense of humor, and more. Many of the kids I work with have trouble with these things; they feel disconnected to others and unsure in their friendships.

Social media apps add a complicated layer: much of what is online is carefully curated, filtered, scripted and rehearsed, and targeted to certain audiences. It is not authentic real life! When young people see these videos and images of perfection, they aren’t able to discern real from fake, hidden marketing messages, and “likes” vs true friendships. They often feel anxious and insecure but they can’t figure out why.

Have you ever known someone who was different around different people, like a chameleon?  I have…and at times in my younger life, I was that person. I think most young people do that – it’s normal to try personalities and behaviors on for size, to try to fit in, to try to impress.

Being able to connect with others is developed by being 100% you. Most tweens and teens don’t know who they are yet but a trained, skilled coach can work with them to draw out their core values, their likes and dislikes (and sometimes help put those in perspective) their courage, their confidence and their resilience. When a young person develops these skills early, as they mature, they will be able to apply the process anew with every experience they have. By being authentic to who they are, accepting others, and having good in-person social skills, they will develop the human connection that they crave.

Here are some tips to help develop human connection – these work for adults too!

  • When you’re interacting with people, look them in the eye and put your phone away. Give the person you’re talking to the courtesy of full attention.
  • Ask questions about the other person!  People like to share a piece of themselves and you’ll learn something.
  • After you’ve asked the question, really listen to their answer!  Focus on what they’re saying instead of thinking of what you’ll say next.
  • Notice your own vibe: is your hoodie up, your chin down, your earbuds in? You’re telling people you don’t want to be approached whether you mean to express that or not! Body language matters.
  • Learn people’s names. I’m shocked at the number of kids who can’t tell me the names of the kids they sit with in class at school.
  • Don’t gossip about others or be mean online! People have long memories and this will make others wary of you. Remember, text has no “tone” so even if you meant it funny, others might not see it that way. If you made a mistake online (we all have) apologize in person to clear it up.
  • Embrace who you are: you do not need to try to fit in with people who vibe differently than you do!  Be yourself and your people will find you.
  • Remember that in order to have big talk (deep connection) you first have to be able to make small talk. The small talk isn’t actually small!

If you’re interested in learning more about Mindful Health and Harmony and my coaching services, please fill out an inquiry form for a complimentary conversation. Let’s see if I’m a good fit for your family.