No human on the internet can miss the flood of articles about how bad all of our screen time is for our kids and for us. I’ve added to the “unplugged” conversation myself and am a big proponent of the benefits of unplugging and focusing on real connections with real people. However, I have also seen how some social media use can foster closer relationships with family and friends. So, in an about-face from what I usually espouse, here are seven ways I’ve found to foster closer relationships using social media.
#1 Share privately
When you come across an article, book review, or Pinterest recipe that someone you care about might like, share it privately with a personalized message.
On a birthday, rather than writing “Happy Birthday” on your friend’s Facebook page or Instagram feed with the ever-present cake and balloon emogis, take time to post a photo of the two of you or share a favorite quote that reminds you of that person. Even better, write a heartfelt affirmation – something you love about the person – and either post it for all to see or send it privately.
#3 Pick up your phone or a pen
Instead of mindless scrolling and quick “likes,” stop when you come to a post about a friend’s accomplishment, loss, or celebration. Reach out to celebrate or comfort them with a call or a hand-written note. Knowing that you are really thinking about them (not just liking their status) will mean more to your friends and loved ones than another like or comment. And a stamped note is a unique and special surprise these days!
#4 Play games
You know all those fun games on social media? Play them – with your family and friends. Last week, I discovered Trivia Crack (horrible name, I know), and I now have games going with my son and my husband. My son also has a game going with his grandmother, whom he taught to play. If we’re going to play these games, we might as well use them as topics of conversation when we’re together, right? So, instead of playing games with strangers, find games to play with the people you really care about!
#5 Be real
I’m not a fan of “oversharing” personal information online, but I do see the value in being a real person rather than an always-looking-fantastic, always-having-great-accomplishments fake online presence. Reaching out for information or help is a way to connect with others and nurture contact beyond social media with people who are going through something similar: “I’m struggling to cut out most of the sugar from my family’s diet. Anyone have any tips?” Posts like that don’t reveal family secrets and also let you know who you can contact personally for more support.
#6 Plan social events
Create an event on Facebook or use an Evite to expedite details of a get-together. I used a Facebook event to let friends know about a book club dinner I’m hosting tonight. It was easy, and I actually know who’s coming.
#7 Create a private group
When our first child left for college, we created a private family group, which is “secret,” so no one other than us can even see it. When I’m tempted to post on social media, I often realize it’s really just something I want my family to see. So, when my son gets a medal for sportsmanship, the picture and message go in the private family group, not in my general feed. I do love to see pictures of people’s kids and accomplishments, so I’m not against posting things for mass consumption, but there’s something special and more intimate about posting for a few family members or friends, with a message just for them, that seems to foster a closeness that a public post does not.
From my family’s private Facebook group to funny private messages, I’ve seen how my online connections have actually fortified my real ones.
Now, lest you get the wrong idea that I am some kind of social media angel, let me set things straight. I don’t always use social media to foster important relationships. I mostly scroll mindlessly through my Facebook feed or pin recipes that I’ll never make. But I’ve challenged myself to embrace the latest apps that my kids are on and figure out how I can use them to enhance the real relationships in my life. These screens aren’t going away, so we may as well try to use our online connections to build up our real ones!
From now on, I’m going to feel less guilty about being plugged in, because I’ll be more intentional about using that online time to foster real connections with the people I love. And, of course, I’ll still prioritize getting myself and my kids unplugged.