Digital Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

How to talk about: Making friends (in real life)

How to talk about making friends

Many of us are worried that technology is ruining the social skills of our young people. Some people even fear that in 10 years, our kids won’t be able to actually talk to real humans. They will only know how to communicate in zeros and ones, and the world will collapse due to global warming. At that point the movie Waterworld will make way more sense.

But to avoid the tragedy that is Kevin Costner in Waterworld getting any closer to our current reality, we need to teach our kids the basics of making friends with real people in the real world – minus the harpoon-shooting jetskis.

The best way to talk to your child about making friends without a phone is to break down the basic process into five small steps.

1. Be friendly

Most kids are shy, until they learn how to be friendly. Being friendly isn’t about sharing toys, and it isn’t even really about manners (although they help). It’s about smiling, it’s about eye contact and it’s about saying hello. It’s all about the first connection that your child makes with another.

Does your kid know how to smile and say, “Hi, my name is Kevin”? Kevin Costner did and that is how he ended up in the movie Waterworld. Ask your kid if they find it easy or hard to introduce themselves to new people. It may seem basic, but learning this one skill is the essential building block of friendship.

2. Ask good questions

If all you said was “Hi, my name is Kevin”, and then you stood there staring into their eyes and breathing through your gills, that would be creepy. To make friends without technology your children will need to have something to say. The best thing to prepare your child with is good questions. Questions like:

How has your day been? How are you? What’s your name? What has been the best thing and worst thing about your day? How long have you worked here? What’s your favourite thing about your job? Have you ever raced trolleys around the carpark?

If those last three questions seem weird, it because they are supermarket specific. A supermarket is the perfect place to get your child to practise the subtle art of asking questions to create conversation.

Talk to you child about great questions and practise some casual Q&A together. Ask your child – “What’s your favourite question to ask when you meet someone for the first time?”

3. Be positive

The point of asking questions is to find common ground. Some people find common ground by hating things. They say things like, “I hate The Wiggles. I hate the movie Frozen. I hate Kevin Costner.”

Hating stuff is boring. It’s so much better to build common ground by a shared love for things. Teach your kids to say stuff like, “I love music, I love the beach. I love doing the dishes.” They will find other people who will respond, “Me too! We should do those things together.” Boom. Friendship formed.

4. Remember stuff

Speaking of hating things, don’t you just hate it when someone forgets something you’ve told them tons of times. “No, my name is not Buckaroo. It’s Kevin. I’ve been in the movies.” It gets awkward for everybody involved.

Being a good friend means remembering the things that people have told you about in the past and then asking them about it in the future.

5. Be yourself

If you help your kids to be friendly, ask good questions, be positive and remember stuff. They will be great friend-makers.

If confidence comes from being secure in yourself, then it makes sense that the most socially confident children are the ones who are the best at being themselves, no matter who they are around. Children who don’t feel like they have to change the way they talk, dress or pretend that they’ve seen Waterworld just to impress people. These are the kids who are happy and confident just the way they are. So remember to tell your kids that you love them and that you like them – just as they are.

Your child will learn most of their social skills from watching how you socialise

Practice those five steps of making friends yourself. Your children will learn significantly more from what you do than what you say. If you’re good at making new friends, chances are your kids will learn those skills from you.

The majority of young people do communicate more online than offline so it is more important than ever that we talk to our kids about how to make friends without devices. If they can master these skills in the real world, it will help them in the online world too. It might even help them to survive in the unlikely event of a post-apocalyptic dystopian world covered in water.


Christian Gallen

Christian Gallen

Christian has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long career as a youth communicator and presenter. His passion is seeing young people make great choices and thrive, both online and offline.

James Beck

James Beck

James Beck is a dynamic and gifted communicator, whose career has seen him speak to over 200,000 people in schools, prisons and workplaces across Aotearoa. Fuelled by a passion to see people reach their full potential, James weaves together insights from his own experience with the latest research findings to deliver relatable, humorous and empowering presentations. When he isn’t working, James is hanging out with his wife, Rebekah, and their three young kids.

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