Have you ever looked at your spouse and wondered what on earth you have in common?
My husband is an extrovert; I am an introvert. When I worked in corporate America, a key component of my job involved a study of “type,” and how various traits and perspectives could be used to make people work more effectively together. I’ve used these same skills here at home in looking at relationships within my family, both immediate and extended. To say that I’m introverted in this sense has nothing to do with being shy. Believe me: I am not shy. Introvertedness and extrovertedness have everything to do with how you process the world around you. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy writing: it helps me think.
Now back to my husband. My husband is an extrovert. Extroverts process the world around them via their associations with people, things, etc. My husband, as one example, struggles with just letting a phone ring without answering, or not running to the mailbox to get the daily mail: he feels as if he’s missing something. As long as I know the family’s safe, I never have to see any mail or answer a phone, and those modes of communications often go unnoticed by me if the person/ address in unfamiliar.
Another difference is our individual emphasis on friendships. Personally, if I have 2-3 people in my life with whom I make a “real” connection, I’m good. My husband, on the other hand, loves to meet new people and connect in a different way with a wealth of people. I’m the person on Facebook (or in Blogland) who has relatively fewer friends, but a heart-felt closeness with each person who has crossed my path. He’s the guy who was last in the family to get a FB account, but who is “above average,” shall we say, in his hours of reaching out and touching everyone.
Given this difference of focus on people and friendships, when the kids come home from any event that places them away from the rest of the family, I’m focused on whether or not they enjoyed it, were they safe, is it something that they might want to do again, etc. My husband’s #1 question is as follows:
‘Did you make any friends?’
This was our conversation riding home from church on Sunday. Our son had spent all day Saturday with a group from a local church. In fact, he has spent a couple of years with this group of kids. He enjoys them, and they often reach out to him; from our perspective, he has friends among this group. But my husband had another question/ concern. I think largely based on his extroversion, i.e., the different, and arguably higher, need for external relationships. He says to my son, “Why don’t you guys ever do things that are outside of the church?” How do you build the friendship?”
Here’s where the conversation gets interesting:
Oldest (oldest children have a unique ability to swing in either direction in order to balance the parental presence of the moment): ” Dad, that’s not how kids make friends anymore. You trade phone numbers, FB accounts, but you don’t really go out and do alot of stuff together. You just sort of hang out when you’re around one another.”
Son (decidedly introverted like his mom): “I suppose I could invite them to do something, but I really don’t have the time.”
Youngest (an extrovert showing her age by stating her point several times emphatically, since she’s the baby and feels as if no one listens to her): “You (meaning her dad and I) have to know the parents!”
I left this conversation with no clear-cut answers, but instead several ideas to ponder over time.
What the oldest shared was very consistent with some research her dad saw that suggests that kids today don’t have the same needs to be out and about as those of our generation and previous generations before us. Social media tools like FB, Twitter (the top two used by teens) and even Oovoo (video chat technology) allow them to connect with friends in a way that we could only do via face-to-face means. It is totally possible for the kids to dance together, or hang out on campus together, and then use these tools to connect at other times without interfering (too much) with home or school work, or disrupting the family’s general flow. In fact, my husband is convinced that this dynamic is a large part of what took her so long to finally get a driver’s license. Here is another article that speaks to teens and their use of social media for positive purposes.
Speed of life is what my son alluded to. As one example of many, he joined the library’s teen book club this year, but only got to review one book before he had to leave the club when he was asked to take on more responsibilities at the dance center. Given that Saturdays and Sundays tend to get booked quickly with family time and associated errands, he literally has 1 evening free. Yeah, bowling or a movie would be nice, but I can also appreciate that he sometimes just wants to read, play a game, or watch a movie!
The youngest’s comment is also valid: safety and security are important. I see some of my Sunday School students with WAY too much information out on Facebook–college acceptance letters with their personal addresses as a part of the Instagram, posts or even clothing that tells you exactly where their high school or church is located, etc. That doesn’t mention the occasional hacker who might post pornography to a site–YIKES! The ability of social media to make the world smaller also means that we must be even more diligent over the ear- and eye gates of our children. That doesn’t even include the crazies who live around us every day.
My final thought was about a separate, but still relevant, conversation I had with one of my sisters not long ago. We talked about a younger generation that is far more “me” oriented–those relatives that you only hear from when it is convenient to their needs. And while we are blessed to be thought of as lights in the darkness, here’s the bottom line: relationships are important. Don’t get me wrong: online friends can be marvelous. There are people whom I now consider among my dearest friends who began as blog buddies or customers. I genuinely love them and pray for them as I pray for my own flesh and blood. In some cases, I’ve visited homes, and in other cases, I’ve slowed down to write a “real” letter–something I don’t even do with my sisters! But yet, those relationships should never be an excuse to not shake a hand, share a laugh or smile, or offer tangible help when you can.
As an example, we have neighbors diagonally across from us, whose primary relationship exists because of the friendship between our youngest and their daughter/ granddaughter. We as adults communicate often through texts or e-mails–there’s that speed of life thing again. But after the husband/father suffered a debilitating stroke, there have been days when we had to meet the school bus and keep their little one. There’ve been days when my husband’s willingness to pay a hospital visit made the husband’s day. I thought about all of this as we carted surplus fruits and vegetables from our church’s food fair to their home just yesterday. It wasn’t a big gift, but it said, “We are thinking about you and we care.” That small gift was about nurturing a relationship.
Again, I’m not Answer-woman on this one, but I can accept that making friends and building relationships looks very different now than it did when I was young. Yet, some things never change, and I’m praying that as our kids embrace all of these new tools and ways of connecting, they don’t belittle the joy of a smile, a shared laugh, or a warm hug.
What do you think? Has social media hurt our kids’ abilities to nurture “real” friendships?