Kids are spending increasingly more time in front of screens – whether for remote learning or social playtime. In fact, experts estimate that kids ages 8+ are now spending 44.5 hours a week in front of screens.
One of the biggest concerns with screen time is whether kids are learning social skills. During COVID-19 social distancing, for example, parents were concerned that their kids were missing out on opportunities for social interaction and development.
While in-person connections will always be important, there may be a case for kids learning some social skills online. From the experts at ThinkPsych, here’s how your kids can take advantage of virtual time to create deeper interactions.
Educators have mixed feelings about learning social skills online
Studies show that having great social skills in childhood can lead to better mental health, healthier relationships and brighter career outcomes in adulthood.
Yet experts are still mixed on how we can build social skills. 49% of educators believe that technology is somewhat or very ineffective for enhancing social skills, compared to 43% who think it can be somewhat or very effective.
As much as we try to limit or ignore technology, however, it’s becoming a large presence in our kids’ lives. Even if outcomes never reach in-person levels, it’s important to enhance virtual time to become more educational and healthier for our kids.
Here are some values that educators and parents can try to instill during online time:
- Sharing and cooperation (i.e. taking turns)
- Active listening
- Perspective-taking (i.e. empathy)
- Identifying and managing emotions
Ultimately, these values can be taught within a variety of learning contexts, including online.
Ideas for boosting social skills online
To inspire you to reimagine virtual time with your kids, here are some ideas for boosting social skills online.
1. Online playdates with friends
Just as you would in person, schedule playdates for your kid on Zoom or Google Meet. Suggest a craft, game or activity that your kid and their friend can do on screen simultaneously. You might even encourage a conversation game such as Chat Chains for maximum social interaction.
2. Video calls with friends and family
Don’t forget about including your kid on video calls with friends and family. It’s important to keep up these short social interactions. Ask your kid to think of 3-5 questions to ask before the call even starts in order to foster participation.
3. Leverage educational online games
There are thousands of online games out there today, but not all have the same educational value. Opt for games that could boost learning outcomes and/or social interactions. Some top choices could be Hall of Heroes, Peppy Pals, Social Quest and more.
4. Sign up for online penpals
Penpals are an excellent way for kids to learn how to express themselves. While nothing quite beats the joy of snail mail, kids today can benefit from writing emails and sending online art to penpals. Choose a non-local friend for a penpal or sign up for a safe, verified penpal program such as Kids for Peace, PenPal Schools, Global Penfriends or ePals.
5. Play real-time group games or projects
In addition, many group games can be played online without needing to be adapted. You might suggest role-play games such as emotional charades or decision-making scenarios. Or perhaps a creative project could stimulate social interaction, such as putting on an online theater play or creating a short movie clip.
6. Have regular show-and-tells
A tried-and-true activity to improve social development is show-and-tell. During show-and-tell, kids have to learn to listen actively to others, as well as communicate why they love the item they’ve chosen. It’s a great way to personalize group conversations and get kids talking!
7. Create an online scavenger hunt
Finally, you can get creative by organizing a virtual scavenger hunt for your kid and their friends. Scavenger hunts are ideal for team building and communicating among groups. You can look up some potential virtual and educational scavenger hunts, or even create your own in order to enhance your child’s social life.
Elevate your child’s social skills online and in-person
Reimagine your kid’s virtual time by using these tips for improving social skills online. While in-person activities can’t be replaced, these ideas will help make online time more educational and socially-oriented.
What’s your favorite online activity to build social skills? Let us know what’s working well with your kids. And don’t forget to check out even more activities to build social skills at home!
- The Center for Parenting Education, Kids and the Internet, https://centerforparentingeducation.org
- Child Mind Institute, Teaching Social Skills at Home, https://childmind.org
- Education Week, Is Tech Destroying Kids’ Social Skills? Here’s How Social-Emotional Learning Can Help, https://www.edweek.org
- Fast Company, 3 Ways to Improve Your Kids’ Social Skills During Remote Learning, https://www.fastcompany.com
- LD Online, Teaching Social Skills to Kids Who Don’t Yet Have Them, https://www.ldonline.org
- VeryWell, 7 Most Important Social Skills for Kids, https://www.verywellfamily.com