Juggling life amid a pandemic has made all of us keenly aware of the toll a lack of community can take — more specifically, in-person, face-to-face interaction with other human beings.
Aamie Mason, a licensed associate counselor with Living Well Counseling in Little Rock, led a breakout session during a recent conference at First Baptist Church Benton, Arkansas, that focused on establishing healthy community and why she believes students need “face-to-face community” in today’s digital world.
During her session, Mason asked parents about their own personal use of technology and screen-time habits and shared the importance of healthy community — and that for children and youth it must begin with parents’ examples.
“During this discussion, several parents and youth ministers shared that their mornings (immediately after waking) begin with screens. For some, it was a need to be informed about news headlines. For others, it was the need to get started with the workday as soon as possible ‘to get a head start’ (checking emails),” Mason said. “This provided an opportunity for me to share the importance of connecting with the Lord and our families before engaging with the world via technology.
“Our children are watching our habits and routines. Change starts with us.”
According to Mason, parents cannot lead their children to participate in healthy community and a personal relationship with Christ if they are not themselves practicing these disciplines.
“In terms of mental health, our kids need this type of community and face-to-face interaction for emotional regulation. When they are anxious, frustrated, angry, disappointed (or) lonely, we can be their place of safety. If our children experience this in the home environment first, they will be more likely to practice it with friends,” Mason explained.
Parents, grandparents and other influential adults can uniquely shape the emotional, spiritual and mental health of children and youth by engaging in “face-to-face interaction,” according to Mason.
Technology often can create barriers to such interaction, and Mason recommended practices such as “no technology usage during meal times,” “no texting family members who are in another room in the house,” “no technology usage during short commutes to school, church, extracurricular activities” and “no technology usage during Bible study, worship gatherings and community groups.”
In the time freed up by limiting technological interaction, Mason said parents could engage their children and allow them to share their “everyday worries and concerns.”
“Many children and teens are craving focused attention, attunement and emotional connection,” she said.
‘Seen, heard and understood’
As a way to illustrate some of her concepts, Mason asked parents to “recall a time in their lives when they felt seen, heard and understood by someone” then asked them to sculpt something from Play-Doh to represent the connection.
“Examples shared were golf clubs (a father shared that he recently acted as a caddy for his young son learning to play golf), a sandwich (representing a lunch date one recently had with a sibling), a waterfall (shared experience while hiking with a spouse), multiple circles (representing a youth group sharing with one another at camp) and a house (representing a home visit a youth minister made to a student who accepted Christ),” Mason said.
“This activity provided an opportunity for the people in the breakout session to reflect on the importance of emotional connection and the value of sharing the experience verbally to others in the room,” she noted.