If the first rule of real estate is location, location, location, then the first rule of relationships is communication, communication, communication. But then – there’s middle school.
My 13-year-old daughter came home with a sad tale of a disagreement with a friend. She was sad. She was stressed. She didn’t want to go to school the next day. As I slowly pried out of her what had taken place, she explained how she had “called out” her friend for some behavior she didn’t like. She repeated their conversation, using the words “so she said” and “then I said.”
Me: Wow… sounds like you had a pretty tough conversation. You were actually able to say all that to her?
C: Yes! I told her all the things I didn’t like.
Me: Hmm. And you said all this in person?
C: Well, no… I messaged her on Instagram.
NOOOO! I really thought I’d taught her better. But the truth is, my kids are having more and more trouble being able to communicate face to face with real live humans. From small things (“can’t I just text Nana a happy birthday?”) to the big ones (“what do you mean I have to actually call to apologize? I don’t like talking on the phone”) it’s getting to be a problem in our house!
Hiding behind social media accounts can make us say things we would never say in person. Every day I find examples online to remind my children that topics (everything from friendships to politics) that might produce a civil and gracious and interesting discussion when we’re face to face can quickly disintegrate into a vicious back-and-forth when we comment or “talk” virtually.
There was even – frustratingly – someone I respect who shared a very divisive and inflammatory Facebook post that ended with his desire to “start a conversation.” Well, let me tell you…. there are lots of ways to have very good and spirited conversations with people of all walks of life – but a Facebook comments section is certainly not the place it will get done.
Middle school girls’ friendships are hard enough. I’m trying to encourage more in-person interaction, but some days it feels like such an uphill battle! I’m trying to ask my kids daily – “how are your relationships? Is there anyone you’re close to this week that you can encourage? Is there anyone driving you crazy who I can help you “get right” with?” They’re dealing with all the same ups and downs I had at their age, but amplified, because of the ability to include others in group texting/messaging/arguing. (And don’t get me started on the picture sharing!)
Friendships are so, so important at every stage of life. As an adult, I feel so blessed to have found my group – good friends who are there when I need them – for everything from party planning and shopping for clothes to spiritual encouragement and deep soul-sharing sessions. They sharpen me and build me up, and gently correct me when I’m (of course, this is hardly ever) in the wrong. I just hope I am doing the same for them.
It takes work to find those close friends, and it takes effort to nurture and maintain relationships. For my daughters, navigating the middle-school and high school worlds, friendships can be hard. Emotions run high, feelings get hurt so easily. It’s a tough time.
We worked out the Instagram situation above, but I know it will come up again. I just keep encouraging my kids – friendships are important. These are people you’re on your journey with – and God wants us to have close, real relationships with people who will celebrate our highs and carry us during our lows. If you want someone to be loyal to you, be loyal to them. You want encouragement? Be an encourager right back. You don’t want someone talking about you behind your back? Don’t do it to others. And if you want to really talk (or you want to “gently correct”) – you need to do it in person.