real connection - mom reading with daughter
Adobe Stock

Digital and real connection are not the same. 3 ways to help kids build in-person connections

We all need real connection, not just virtual interactions.

In today’s digital age, our teenagers and adult children are more connected than we ever were at their age. They can communicate with someone living across the country, or even the world, at any given moment. Yet, a recent study by Cigna revealed a startling fact: three out of four Gen Z’ers report feeling alone sometimes or always.

There’s a clear difference between digital and in-person relationships, but psychologist Dr. Tom Golightly believes we can help our kids on their quest for real connection.



Digital connections, as conceptualized by Tom, is like snack food. Just like snack food, it’s not giving us the full three-course meal we crave. It’s just enough to make us think we’re full, but then we get hungry again. Online relationships are not giving us the satisfaction of true connection. 

Parents have a crucial role to play in helping their children develop real, in-person connections. It’s a task that requires intentionality.  

“Those dating apps and social media sites, they weren’t created with the purpose of replacing social connection,” Tom explained, “It was supposed to help facilitate it. Yet in practice, what that’s done over the last 15 years is we’ve kind of flip flopped. Now we rely too heavily on virtual interaction.” 

Encouraging Value-Based Decisions

Tom said a great way for parents to promote in-person connections is to encourage value-based decisions. “They might not even know what they want from their social interactions. It might be good to sit down and say, ‘What do you value? Do you want a lot of friends? Do you want two friends you do everything with? Do you want to date to marry, or do you want to date for fun?’”  

Tom said all answers are fine. What matters is that their behaviors match their values. Once you know what you children value, you can help them prioritize their actions.  

Relate to Your Kids

We also need to address fear and regulate emotion. Tom encouraged parents to try and relate. “I remember the worry I felt when I was dating. I had to call your mom on the landline, and guess who always answered… dad. It was the worst,” Tom shared. It’s important to normalize emotions and help them make decisions based on their intentions, not their fears. 

Providing the Spot for In-Person Connections

Finally, provide the spot for in-person connections. “This is for the young adults and the teenagers that are still in the home. Let your home be the spot.” Let your home be the place where they can have real, in-person interactions. It might require a few more dirty dishes, but Tom believes the effort will be worth the reward. 

While the digital age has brought us unprecedented connectivity, it’s also brought us a paradox: the more connected we are digitally, the more disconnected we can feel personally. As parents, it’s our role to help our children navigate this paradox and foster real, meaningful connections. 

Add comment