More and more kids today are experiencing social difficulties. Your younger kids may be glued to the computer, preferring the screen to interactive play with another child. Parents increasingly complain that their children don’t talk to them, or involve them in their daily activities.
Our adolescents are faced with a more serious problem – their cellphones. Many of them are never separated from their electronic devices except when asleep. They appear to be very social, with many friends on Facebook, members of multiple WhatsApp groups, Snapchat, etc. and their phones are pinging left and right. However, statistics show that these seemingly-popular teens experience extreme feelings of social isolation and loneliness, and are equipped with little or no social skills to enable them to interact in the real world. Their relationships remain superficial, as they don’t have the social skills to form more meaningful connections.
We’ve all experienced seeing a group of people sitting together, everyone on their phones either texting someone else or checking their messages. Something is drastically wrong with this picture. If you are with someone, then be with them not somewhere else. What kind of message is that transmitting to the person you are with? Where is the connection?
In a 2012 research study, Harvard scientists reported that when you engage with social media, dopamine is released into the brain. This chemical, also released when smoking, drinking and gambling, is highly addictive. By not limiting our kids' access to social media, we are effectively facilitating the availability of an addictive chemical.
We need to help our kids to reconnect with their friends rather than turn to a device. We must teach them the value of building a deeper connection, based on empathy and compassion, and truly being present with another in the moment. No emoji can replace a true friend.
Social skills are developed over time, beginning with healthy interaction with parents, siblings and later with peers. This behavior is learned through modelling by caregivers, which is then imitated and adopted by the child.
Animal-assisted therapy provides an opportunity to experience and build a meaningful connection with a living being. Therapeutic interaction with an animal encourages development of responsibility, respect and empathy. The therapist mediates the building of this relationship, thereby facilitating the development of these skills. This successful interaction with an animal fosters the carry-over of the same skills-set to be used with peers.
Vivi Kosowsky and Lisa Ben Meir are Animal Therapists and founders of the Feathers and Fur Animal Therapy Center. They will be running a series of two-week summer camps in July and August, designed to develop and strengthen emotional and social skills through activities with animals. Click here for further information and registration or call: Vivi 054-7500718, Lisa 050-8751848 or email: email@example.com