It’s back to school time! But what does that mean? For you it might mean a bit more quiet time at home. For your kids it might mean a new school, new classroom, new teacher, and maybe even a new Wonder Woman backpack. But as we get ourselves and our kids ready for a new year, we also want to remember that back to school isn’t just about getting back to academics. It’s also about getting back to great friends, making new ones, and having other social experiences.
As one of the 5 protective factors, social connection is key to strengthening families. Studies have demonstrated the common sense idea that building the right social network promotes children and families being resilient. Let’s look at 2 specific benefits of strong social networks.
2 Benefits of Social Connection
Good friends, supportive family members, close neighbors, and helpful community members provide essential emotional support for all families. During good times your social network is there to celebrate with you.
But social networks also offer encouragement and productive advice, especially during stressful moments. When parents feel isolated and unable to reach out for parenting advice or concrete assistance, the stress can compound and lead to an unhealthy and unhappy home situation. So while it might be tempting to think of social experiences as an extra, the benefits of social connections go far beyond temporary pleasure and enjoyment.
In addition to building on family strengths, buffering against risks, and promoting positive outcomes for families, social connection has many other positive benefits. Consider how you the following benefits:
1. Surrounding Ourselves with Positive People Helps Us Stay Positive Too.
We often talk to our kids about the company they keep. We may warn them against running with the wrong crowd or hanging out with kids who we see as bad influences. But the opposite is worth reminding them of--there are positive benefits of spending time with positive people. What would be be like to talk with the kids in your life about why they enjoy spending time with particular friends and what they get out of those relationships?
Reflecting on the social networks you have experienced, you might realize a few things: It’s easier to study when you have studious friends who value academics. It’s easier to eat well when you have friends who are really into meal planning and sharing healthy recipes. It’s easier to go to the gym when you know a friend is going to meet you there, etc. There’s so much power in being part of a group of people who have shared interests, passions, and values. You can pass along these lessons to your kids by sharing with them a little about how your friends help you.
Because this benefit applies not only to your kids, but to your life as well. When we adults think about health, we tend to focus mainly on things like diet and exercise habits. But it turns out that surrounding ourselves with positive people has health benefits too. Life really is too short to be around negative people (or engage with them in your Facebook newsfeed).
One big challenge here, though, is that as adults, it can actually be more difficult to cultivate and nurture friendships. When we’re younger, there are a lot of opportunities to meet new people and we tend to have more free time to connect with others. But later in life, finding time to meet people outside of work or to spend time with friends often means sacrificing time with the kids, your partner, or even time to yourself.
Knowing that your time is precious, be sure you guard it carefully. Take a moment to reflect on who in your social network makes you feel appreciated and uplifted. Reach out to them and let them know how much they mean to you. Be grateful and think about ways you can make more time for these people in your life.
2. Positive Thinking Helps Us Take Steps to Improve Our Lives.
“Believe you can and you will!” I know, it sounds like a saying taken from one of those corny motivational posters, but there really is power in positive thinking. Before you roll your eyes, we know there are a lot of steps between the believing you can do something and the doing of that thing. But the point is you really can’t go wrong with a strategy that includes positive thinking.
How exactly does positive thinking improve our lives? Well, one of those in-between steps looks like this: When we surround ourselves with positive people, not only do we start to see the world in a more positive light, but we also become more aware of actions we can take to improve our own lives. Awareness is always the first step to changing a habit for the better.
The psychological benefits of positive thinking are clear too. Take for instance one experiment aimed at enhancing the self-worth of impoverished people in Kampala, Uganda:
A group of students watched an inspirational film about a chess prodigy, “Queen of Katwe,” ahead of preparing for national exams. The Disney movie is based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a girl from a poor township in Kampala, who went on to become an international champion chess player, an achievement that exceeded what many students in Uganda had even thought possible. When these students took their exams after watching the film, they performed better than a control group. Significantly more of the “Queen of Katwe” viewers had scores high enough to gain admission to public universities.
Strong friends and positive social networks act as inspiration. They represent real world role models who let us know what’s possible and can help us talk through our options. The supportive people in our lives are there not only to help us handle difficult moments, but also to keep us encouraged through the challenges we face along the way.
So, if you find yourself (or your kids) spending too much time wallowing in self-pity or endlessly scrolling through social media as summer draws to a close, get up and find a real, supportive friend. They really are worth their weight in gold.
And if you find yourself running short on positive supportive people to turn to, EFC is there for families who need more support than their network can give. We’re here to help you develop new skills and capacities.
At this time, we are working to expand our organization’s skills and capacities. As you read this, we’re getting our new office space ready and we also know we couldn’t do what we do feel for families without our social network. If you could lend a helping hand to lighten the load, we’d love to have your support. Please click through to see how you can help.