Raising a "People Person" in a Digital Age

By Kyrie Collins, Publisher of Highlands Ranch-Parker-Castle Rock-Lone Tree, CO November 2, 2021

The American Academy of Pediatrics proposes no screen time for children under the age of 18 months and limited time (two hours or less) of high-quality educational programs and apps for older children (Source: Media and Children). Screen time has been linked to childhood obesity, lack of sleep, lower grades, and body aches and pains.

But IRL, parents know that handing their child a smartphone or tablet can buy enough time to take a hot shower or occupy a hungry toddler in a busy restaurant until the food arrives. In fact, a study by Common Sense Media shows that 9% of babies under the age of 2 and 27% of toddlers ages 2-4 use a smartphone, tablet, or other digital device at least once a day.

There are many benefits to our use of technology, from educational information to staying in touch with long-distance relatives. Under parental supervision, learning how to use and care for these gadgets properly and how to stay safe online will ultimately benefit our kids as they make their way through our digital world.

Still, in order to succeed, our kids need to learn good interpersonal skills too. Here are a few tips to help them master the basics of social interaction.

Designate Screen-Free Times and Places
Whether it's the kitchen table, the car ride home from school, or Sunday dinner at Grammy's house, set aside the electronics and engage in conversation with the people who matter most. Try to "unplug" for an hour every day, or for one day each week.

Let Them Do the Talking
Resist the urge to answer questions on behalf of your child, even if his shy side is showing. In public settings like the grocery store or the library, praise your child for saying "please" and "thank you" to those who are helping you. In restaurants, encourage your kids to order for themselves, or to order an appetizer for the table. Remind them to look your server in the eye and to speak loudly and clearly.

Learn to Apologize with Sincerity
Teach your child these simple steps to make an apology that goes far beyond just saying "Sorry".

  1. Look the person in the eye and use a sincere voice.
  2. Say "I'm sorry for _____. It was wrong because _______. In the future, I will ______."
  3. Ask if there is something you can do to make things right.
  4. Finally, ask "Will you please forgive me?"

Study Body Language and Facial Expressions
Before reading a book, flip through the pages together and guess what the different characters might be feeling based on their expressions. Point out expressive clues, such as crossed arms, wide eyes, or smiles. You can also find fun videos online that demonstrate expressions.

Practice Making a Phone Call
As a young teen, I was gently scolded by a friend's mom when I asked, "Is Danielle there?" as soon as she picked up the phone. She pointed out that it is simply good manners to say "hello" to the person who answers the call. When my own sons first started making phone calls to their friends' houses, I helped them practice how to do it.

  1. Start with "Hello, this is ______? May I please speak with _______?"
  2. If your friend is not available, ask "May I please leave a message?" and give the person your name again and your phone number.
  3. If your friend is available, be sure to say "Thank you" to the person who answered. When your friend comes to the phone, say "Hi ______! It's ________! How are you doing?"
  4. When the call is over, don't just hang up. Be sure to say goodbye!

"Small" Talk is a Pretty Big Deal
Nearly every close friendship begins with a little small talk. Help your child come up with a list of questions to ask a new friend, like "What school do you go to?" or "Do you like to play soccer?" When your kids get older, explain that nearly everyone enjoys talking about themselves. Complimenting someone's shirt or asking about weekend plans (before or after) are both good conversation starters. Remind them to use the other person's name and make eye contact.

Be a Role Model
Author Robert Fulghum said, "Don't worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you." Teach your kids by your own example that they don't have to respond to every "ding" that comes through their phone. Never, ever text while driving. Occasionally put your own phone on silent, turn off push notifications for gaming apps, and, most importantly, set your device down and make eye contact when your kids are talking to you.