Yesterday my 17-year-old and I were talking about the upcoming holiday season when she said, “Mom, I’d rather have fewer things and more of you instead.”

It made me wonder, “why do people even give gifts this time of year?”

After mulling over my daughter’s declaration, it occurred to me that gift giving isn’t about the actual stuff. Those who enjoy gift giving during this time of the year, do so because they want a tangible way to say, “I love you”.  It is a way for them to show that you, or your child, matter and thus is about an attempt to connect and build relationship. Perhaps in the gift is a little bit of hope that the receiver will think of the giver each time the gift is used or played with. In the end, it is about making a connection with each other. 

Okay, so we want to give to each other at special times to send a message of love.  That’s fantastic.  But what about the rest of those moments when a child or teenager is feeling alone? 

Matthew Lieberman, author of the book Social, explains that “whenever it has a free moment, the human brain has an automatic reflex to go social.”  But what if there is no-one available to “go social with” and no clear vision of how to make that happen? Because loneliness is a pervasive dilemma of our modern times that hurts – like a headache or like stomach pain – the brain finds whatever means necessary to feel that it is making that social connection:  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.  The success of all these large platforms are a testament to the intensity of this social need.  All these large social media corporations spend millions on researching just how to capture the attention of our young.  But guess what?

There is something even more powerful, something with years more practice in gaining their attention and capturing their interest: Nature

The World Health Organization tells us the major contributor to the overall global burden of disease is depression. Depression is mitigated by social connection and contact with nature.  Studies of happiness tell us that key factors in someone’s lifetime happiness quotient are their social connections and contact with nature.  Research tells us that the success of a child later in life can be predicted by their social abilities and their successful development which for millions of years happened in nature. 

Connection and nature. Connection and nature. Connection and nature.  Our children are designed for connection, and this wiring happened through interactions in nature. 

We can capitalize on what nature has wired into us over millions of years to address some of the current problems.  One problem that weighs heavy on most adults is that of too much screen time. Any house with internet access knows how difficult it is to get kids away from the screen.  Instead of attempting to override or discard their affinity for the screen, use their desire for connection and commandeer it!  Make the problem part of the solution! 

Here are 5 ideas on how to use technology to support relationship building, connect with young children and teens, and ultimately get them outside by meeting them where they are: online.

Schedule Regular Time With Them Using Technology

Send a card with a small calendar, marking a set day and time each week, or twice a month.  Use this day to have a video chat, via Skype or FaceTime, with your grandchild, niece, nephew, or child. Here are some things you can do on your chat:

  • Read a book and show the pictures.Find stories that bring nature to life for them.
  • Tell a story from your childhood, remembering to highlight the mysteries, the sensory details of the story, the scary or funny parts.  Kids are drawn into stories that feed them emotionally. What are your outside stories of childhood?
  • Draw together and show each other pictures. Include nature in your drawings, leaving them with a desire to pay more attention when they walk outside.
  • Make maps and mark the spot where you hear/see birds or other wildlife.

Video Chat with Screen Share

  • Use a free video chat service like Zoom to have a fun ‘screen share.’Screen share allows two people in different places to see the same screen.  Together you can look at sites like “All About Birds.”  Kids still surprisingly love to visit this site with me, listening to the sounds, looking at the pictures, facts and maps!
  • Take pictures of things you see outside and have the child do the same.  Then “show” each other the pictures on the screen share.

Make a Shared Journal

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Get any size blank journal and write a story about nature, make it entertaining, draw a picture and then send it to your grandchild.  Ask them to write you a story and send it back to you. 

Make a 3D Nature Story

Collect things from nature where you live and send the things in a box with a card that says, “Call when you open this and I will tell you the story!”  Make up a story to go with the items and after, ask your child to draw you a picture for your refrigerator!  Ask them to send you a “nature story.” 

For teenagers: Teens love screen time.  Don’t be the adult that tells them their interest isn’t important, instead use it a door to open and capitalize on.

Join a Social Media Platform like Snapchat or Instagram

Here is a video of how to “Snap” and here is one of how to “Insta”.  Once you are on the “platform”, create a “nature connected” picture story once a week for them to watch.  Watch their story.  Then when you call, you have a shared experience to talk about.  Again, create mysteries, children and teens are curious by nature. Before you end a conversation, ask a question that will get them thinking about something outside their door! 

The hope is that these suggestions will help you think about ways to connect with your child this holiday season. Sometimes all they want is more time with us, and less stuff.

What suggestions do you have for connecting with your child, nephew, niece, or grandchild this holiday season?

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