4 Things All Kids Should Know About Connection

Research shows that children learn better when they teach someone else what they’ve learned, rather than when they learn for the purpose of a test. “Learning to teach someone else is prosocial and relies on the social networks of the brain,” explains Matthew Lieberman, distinguished social psychologist and neuroscientist.[1] Considering that social connection is a core psychological need, as important to our survival and well-being as food, safety, and shelter, it makes sense that learning which helps us connect to others would be more effective.

We are by nature social creatures. Science tells us we’re, in fact, “wired to connect” because evolution favored humans with a stronger propensity to care for their offspring and organize into groups.[2] As Stanford researcher and author Emma Seppälä asserts on her website, based on a landmark study, a “lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.”

What Your Kids Should Learn About Connection

1) The Biology of Connection

For many parents, it is intuitive to create connection for their children. We arrange playdates. We insist our kids be on teams—soccer, debate or whatever is of interest. We try to build family connection with vacations, weekly rituals, hugs and cuddles. And while fostering this sort of connection is certainly vital for the emotional wellness of our kids, it’s also important to teach them why connection matters. After all, children must learn the true role of our social nature in happiness, health, and success if it is to inform their life choices. They must understand that feeling a sense of belonging is not just a luxury. It is a biological imperative.

This is especially critical in our society which, for years, has said to be experiencing an “epidemic of loneliness.” (The pandemic has only exacerbated it, of course.) We volunteer less. We get married less. We birth fewer children. We move away from childhood friends and family. We work more and pass less time enjoying personal relationships. As our culture has become more prosperous over the last couple decades, it has also become more individualistic and isolating, and rates of depression and suicide have jumped. And yet, when kids learn that the quality of their relationships and a sense of belonging directly impact their health and well-being, they can purposefully cultivate connectedness in their lives and make decisions for themselves with their social nature in mind.

2) What Disconnects Us

Equally important as teaching our children about our need for connectedness is teaching them about what disconnects people. Ideologies that promote misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism do not simply sow hate in our country. They severe connection on a personal level. It is not just the “other” that suffers from prejudice; it’s those harboring the disdain that suffer a lack of connection in our diverse and colorful world.

At the heart of all wars, personal suffering, and inequality is the belief that I am different. The inability to see ourselves in the other leads to strife individually and globally. On the other hand, connection is promoted by empathy and the ability to find common ground with those different from ourselves.

3) Your View of Wealth Matters

Studies overwhelmingly show that materialism is at odds with connection. This does not mean that wealth is bad. Wealth can become problematic when a person values its attainment above all else, when they judge success by possessions, and when they equate material items with happiness. These days it’s common for people to sacrifice personal relationships for the pursuit of wealth, even though it’s no secret that money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, according to leading happiness researcher and Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Vice Chair at the University of California, Riverside, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, "A mountain of research has shown that materialism depletes happiness, threatens satisfaction with our relationships, harms the environment, renders us less friendly, likable, and empathetic, and makes us less likely to help others and contribute to our communities."

4) Connecting Today

In today’s world, we’re more connected than ever thanks to the internet and technology, and yet this type of “connection” is limited. (Though social media would have us fooled.) Liking your friend’s post will never be the same as bringing that friend a bouquet of flowers when she’s sick. We are much more than our cyber presence. We’ve got bodies! As Covid has reminded many of us, there is no substitute for a hug. Making our children aware of the importance of authentic, real connection is often a small, yet impactful first step on the road to connected living.   

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[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

[2] https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/social_connection/definition