Do you access your community through a screen? With more screen access, both parents and children are making their social ties online. Online social networks, though, don’t teach our children the same lessons that face-to-face communities do. This is more than just a need for natural play beyond the screen.
For their normal development, your children do need participation in a robust, face-to-face community.
Within the field of child development, there is a lot of research on community. In what kind of communities do children and families thrive? The research is often related to learning and school. Ultimately, though, research shows that the community in which a child grows shapes the child’s understanding of society. A local community is, for the child, society in microcosm.
Thinking more broadly about what the whole family, not just the child, needs, community is our support system, where we participate and share experiences. We weave our safety net from our community.
We can certainly get a shadow of that support and participation from our online social networks, but those usually consist of ties to people that we are connected to outside the network. A community, online or offline, is a more robust social structure that grows around a common interest. Even when we participate in genuine communities online, they don’t have the richness, complexity, or resilience that face-to-face communities can have. Online ties are weaker.
You probably have points of reference for participation in face-to-face communities that your children will not because they will grow up in a far more screen-mediated world. They won’t realize how deep social connections can be unless they experience those connections. Your children do need the experience of those face-to-face relationships.
Even if you don’t feel a burning desire for community in this moment, you build now for the future. That is how a safety net works.
Finding – or Building – Your Tribe
Every once in a while, I mention an article in Mothering years ago, “Finding Your Tribe,” because this article was a trigger for me about 15 years ago. I was in graduate school, living far away from my family and my husband’s family, and I didn’t really have much of a social life outside of school. One my first child was born, I spent time with other local homebirthers who had shared the same midwife. When I read that article in Mothering, I realized that the people I was spending time with, these other new parents, were my tribe. Just that realization and my dawning understanding of how important it was to have a strong community helped me to cherish this group of families even more.
I mention the article often because I keep hoping that you will find a similar group of people who support you in your parenting journey. Whether you realize it or not, it will help you and your children.
Maybe you already have a community you can strengthen. If you have friends nearby, you’ve got the pieces ready to be matched together.
If you don’t have a group already and you aren’t sure where to start to find a community, especially if you are new to an area, you might just have to plant the seeds yourself and help community grow. Weak social ties can grow to become strong social ties.
You could start a group around your children and just keep inviting new people until you start to build stronger relationships and a core group pulls together. That core group can grow to become a community.
Ideas for groups around children:
- Play group for crawlers.
- Game day for children of all ages, with different games each week.
- Project group for mothers with baby play on the side.
- Baby yoga and social time for mothers.
If you already have strong interests, you can strengthen your ties with those who share your interests. My family is friends with a family that is very connected to renaissance fairs. They spend months a year dressed up, painting faces, and participating with their tribe. Their youngest child was born at the fair. Their closest friends are with the fair. When one group of their friends started a new fair, they went, too, and they are spending their summer at the new fair building making a lot of connections and gradually strengthening ties.
Whatever the interests you build around, you build community by strengthening ties and building genuine relationships within that group.
Your children will learn how the world works from their ties within a complex community. It is worth the discipline and effort to pull back from predominantly weak ties of screen time to build strong ties within a face-to-face community.
For an example of one family’s experiment in seeking connections beyond their screens by unplugging for six months, read Susan Maushart’s The Winter of our Disconnect: How Three Totally Wired Teenagers (and a Mother Who Slept with her iPhone) Pulled the Plug on Their Technology and Lived to Tell the Tale (2011).