Four simple principles to improve virtual connections

by Dr. Emilie DeYoung

All of us have been challenged to participate in more virtual relationships, especially with children. It may be in your role as a teacher, mentor, youth leader, or grandparent, but regardless of the reason for the connection, here are four simple principles that will promote resiliency in your relationship with that person. 

 First, be Present. I have had the privilege of working in the counseling field for over twenty years, yet over the past six months, I have encountered students who are suffering from disconnection and isolation unlike anything I have previously witnessed. As weeks of lockdown orders lingered into months for students, friendships dwindled and loneliness became pervasive. As we enter this school year, students are starving for meaningful connections. Being available and present for a student throws a lifeline fostering human connection and relationship. When you write them a note, they realize that they matter. They are important. And someone else holds them in mind. Then, when you are able to connect in person and you can add the ingredients of active listening and empathy, students develop the strength to break the shackles of loneliness and embrace their identity as children of the King of Kings. 

Second, be Positive. Wow, has our culture grown to inflate negativity! Spending a few moments reading the news or following social media reminds me how hostile, angry, and negative our mainstream culture has become. Students are drowning in this swell of chaos as well. Many are bombarded by criticism on Instagram posts or assaulted with put downs among ‘friends’ while they are gaming. Filling your words and relationship with positivity and kindness builds trust and heals wounds. Kind words create an alternative and corrective experience for kids. Their internal voice changes from ‘I’m worthless’ to ‘Maybe I matter?’ When you see things from a positive perspective, you invite your mentee to experience the world in that way as well. Help them look for the ‘good.’

Third, be Playful. There is nothing like a good laugh to lighten a mood. Stuart Brown, a national expert on the value of play quipped, “When enough people raise play to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a better place.” And isn’t this true! Pause for a moment and consider how you feel when you take the time to play. Whether you are on the tennis court or playing a card game, the act of play triggers positive, happy feelings. I hear many of you wondering, how is it possible to do this when I am not even able to see my mentee in person? While that might be true, there are a multitude of ways to encourage play. If you are meeting them virtually by Zoom or FaceTime, there are screen options that allow you to play games like Uno or crossword puzzles together. There is even a ‘whiteboard’ where you can play games like dot-to-dot or ‘Hangman.’ If you are writing notes, perhaps you can encourage play through including a coloring page or sharing a pretend story. Encouraging kids to create space for play will indeed make the world a better place.

Finally, be in Prayer. Having less face-to-face time with your student or grandchild is challenging. They are probably facing obstacles of which you are not even aware. Even so, keep praying for them. Just this morning, I had a conversation with a mom who shared that she had been wrestling with how to create restrictions around her son’s screen time since he had been spending inordinate amounts of time on his Xbox. She committed to praying for him for a week to see if Jesus would provide her direction. Wouldn’t you know, her son approached her a week later and said he was “kind of sick of his video games.” He had decided to try some other activities with friends. What a testimony to answered prayer! Not all changes occur radically like this one, but we can trust that our God is at work and He is making a way. We simply need to ask.