Beyond the Virtual

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."--Matthew 22:39b A few years ago, my husband was working with the young adults at our church. Along with all the male-female drama, he noticed that there was an interesting phenomenom. These men and women were highly educated, smart, attractive, funny, and earnest in their faith. And yet there was a strange inability to be able to communicate face-to-face with one another. They were able to text, instant message, and e-mail, but somehow things were a little awkward when it came to talking in person.

I see it in myself too. It is so easy to be one person on Facebook, but what happens when I see these same "friends" in real life? It's easy to be virtual friends, but it is a bit more challenging to be real-time friends.

Add to that the incredible busyness and speed of life that today's kids don't always have the time to just play together. And if they do, sometimes it is all technologically related: video games, internet games, and apps are the new way to play. What happened to swimming, pretending and climbing trees?

With all the options and technology available today, it is easy to forego these "low-tech" activities. But nothing beats being able to play in the sandbox together. Where else can we learn to share the pail and shovel, work together as a team to build a sandcastle, or design a whole town? Virtual experiences don't even come close.

Loving Your Neighbor

But as with all good things, relationships take time. They don't just happen. And in our time-crunched world, there just isn't a whole lot of wiggle room to "just" play. You would think that with all our time-saving conveniences we would have more time for that, but instead, it has fooled us into thinking that we can squeeze more in.

The fact is, time-savers or not, we have 24 hours a day. We always have and we always will. And what we do with those 24 hours will depend on our priorities. Clearly, for Jesus there were just two. Love God. Love your neighbor. Everything else falls under those two. Nothing else is more important.

For my husband and I, we want our kids to be able to relate well to and with others. Some people have questioned the "social" aspect of homeschooling, but for most homeschooling families, this is not an issue. At all. Our kids have had interactions with their peers, but they also know how to care for babies, talk to adults, understand preschoolers, and soon, in our home, learn to deal with special needs children. The family is the perfect place to start cultivating people skills. In the real world, not everyone is eleven years old!  

Real-Life Training

One of our prayers for our kids is that they will cultivate good same-gender friendships. Yes, we can bring them to Gymboree or Mommy and Me classes. We have tried that, and with the exception of a very small handful (I can count them on two fingers), we have not found that as beneficial for our kids as inviting friends over to our home. There's something about a home atmosphere that is different than a classroom, don't you think? It takes time to arrange the date and time, but it has been so worth it for us. Not only that, I have met some wonderful friends as a result.

As our kids have gotten older, we still work hard at making our house open to their friends. Birthday parties are not big productions, but time to enjoy the day with the friends they enjoy most. For the boys, I have banned video games when friends visit and have challenged them to run, play outside, pretend and interact. After a few groans, they manage to figure out something to do. Even if it's a Nerf battle, they are laughing, planning and strategizing together. Now that's what I'm talking about!

Scripture gives us tons of "one anothers": love one another, serve one another, greet one another, encourage one another. Look up the word "another" in a concordance and you'll find tons! We started using these in our family devotions to begin training our kids on how we are to treat others. Practice on each other!

For some of my kids, we also had to do hands-on training. Most parents know their kids well. One of our kids has a hard time knowing how to approach a group. Another one is a little too domineering. You know what your kids deal with.

What we do is role-play. Whether your child is preschool or older, helping your kids navigate through situations provides them with tools to use when the time comes. Some may actually need you to be there. All need repetition and coaching, especially right before those friends come over!

All that we do in helping our kids know how to interact with others is priceless. Technology will come and go, but people will not. When we train them with real-life opportunities to be with people of all ages, they can avoid the awkwardness that comes in group situations. And not only that, they can become a testimony for Christ by the way they treat one another. (John 13:35)

For you to think about:

What are some ways that you train your children in the social arts? 

How can we make more time for relationships in this technological age?