How can you help your child learn to cultivate genuine relationships in a world where the word friendship has been systematically diluted into superficiality via invasive social media forums?
What you can learn from this brief blog: There is a list of 9 key friendship characteristics that you should intentionally focus on teaching your child so they cultivate True Friendships.
This question breaks up into a more fundamental question: what are the essential characteristics of a genuine relationship? As a counselor and behavioral scientist who every day sits eye-to-eye with clients who discuss even the most intimate qualities of their best and worst relationships, I believe that humans all share a common set of needs as they seek out those they can bond with on a deeply meaningful level. I know our children are more desperate to find true friends given than previous generations given the more coldly transactional nature of today’s “get what I want in one click” society. In short, the pace at which technology can make things happen is making people much less patient and knowledgeable regarding taking time to cultivate quality bonds.
And it shows: some studies reveal people have fewer friends than has been historically true, and social media forums like Facebook are not replacing friends. For example, credible research shows the more time people spend on Facebook the more likely they are to be depressed.
So what do thoughtful parents do who want their child to navigate the increasingly cumbersome process of finding true friends who will help them along their journey? Well, first you must realize that research clearly indicates that people of any age who have an “inner circle” of “trusted confidants” clearly are happier, healthier, and more able to cope with trauma and the variety of stressors that can derail development and lead to drug use, pregnancy, school problems, etc. Nevertheless, I regularly see parents who seem to delude themselves into thinking that letting their children disappear into a world of technology can actually turn out ok for their child. WRONG! Maybe they can skate by in middle school, but just wait until high school, when they enter the social shark tank!
Good parents are at every stage of development focusing on ensuring their kid develops certain relationship-building skills. Great resource: http://www.amazon.com/Ages-Stages-Parents-Childhood-Development/dp/0471370878
The book “Vital Friends” goes as far as to say that some Gallup research indicates having 4 close friends seems to be a relational “sweet spot” that truly helps adults live more joyful lives. While small-minded thinkers will pick this research apart, forward-thinking parents will see the BIG PICTURE by reflecting on their own life and recognize how much more enjoyable and manageable life is with a group of trusted friends. People who share vulnerabilities with each other and keep these conversations in the Friendship Vault of Confidentiality. When things go wrong, we adults know we do not always want to rely on one person to talk to, this leads to relationships burn out. As my friend and cycling buddy Dave Midel once sagely said: “If you do too much with one person, the “relationship candle will burn too brightly and will eventually burn out”. What an profound insight!!!
After studying scientific data and tracking key insights from the arts & humanities for years, I came upon a book by Tommy Spaulding that succinctly talked about 9 essential qualities of what he calls “Level 5 Relationships”. He breaks up relationships into 5 levels, the highest or “penthouse” relationships being the best and most valuable. To reach the highest (Level 5) of relationship, he articulates 9 factors that must be consistent and reliable:
Authenticity – you can reveal who you truly are
Humility – insight into one’s own “shadow: coupled with a tempered ego
Empathy – true ability to be there when another is in pain or needs support
Confidentiality – disclosures remain private
Vulnerability – you can share even embarrassing insecurities and not worry they will be disseminated or used against you – ever!
Curiosity – openness to other perspectives, ability to disagree
Generosity – a two way street where both really give to each other
Humor – ability to not just laugh but see the humor in our own idiosyncrasies
Gratitude – thankfulness and appreciation for that relationship
This is one of the first times I have seen someone so eloquently put together what I consider to be a true list of what qualities are present in the very best and most noble and healing relationships. Consider the value of forwarding this blog to those who you share Level 5 relationships with, to celebrate what you have!!!!
The best thing to do for your child: POST THIS LIST OF 9 LEVEL 5 CHARACTERISTICS ON YOUR FRIDGE. Make this list a core Mission for every family member!! Every morning you will be reminded of what is really deep and valuable and what is only superficial connecting or “electronic linking”. After all, your child will have times when you are not there, and at 3 a.m. who will they be able to call? No one if you let society superficial social media forums become their relationships advisers!!
-Have regular conversations with your kids about one of these characteristics and give examples of what it is and what it is NOT
-Discuss what you have learned from your history of relationships, without using names and giving away too much. Keep your goal as helping your child build a healthy model of true friendship.
-Every so often ask your child how they would define a true friend and thar will help you understand what level of insight they have and what “blindspots” you may need to cultivate