In a world where our teens speak an entire sentence with a single emoji, getting them to make eye contact may seem like an impossible task. Making social connections is the one key to put them on the road to health and success in school.
The "I" in Illness is Isolation
Often when we want to ensure our children are engaged in a healthy lifestyle we immediately consider factors such as weight and exercise. However, how does our child’s social life also affect their health?
As a physician, I will not minimize the importance of a balanced exercise regimen and nutrition. However, in my primary field of brain and mental health, there is a popular saying: the “I” in illness is isolation. Researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) prove that this statement is true even when applied to children. During a study, they found that the most dangerous contributing factor to a child’s early death is social isolation. In fact, lonely teenagers were subject to increased health risks regardless of physical activity.
Recognize Social Isolation in Your Children
So, how can we prevent social isolation in our children? Professor Kathleen Mullan Harris, a professor of sociology at UNC, found that youth with fewer social connections were at a higher risk of inflammation or abdominal obesity. Harris noted that, “Abdominal obesity and markers of inflammation are directly tied to high risk of important diseases that will come along later in life; including heart disease, stroke, cancer, immune function."
Technology Has Left Us Tongue-Tied
While popular parenting magazine today suggest that parents limit exposure to video games and television, another important aspect of technology is often overlooked. Smartphones have primarily replaced face-to-face conversations, which results in teenagers being unable to create real-time relationships with their peers.
So how can parents work together to solve this issue with a holistic approach?
1. Teenagers may need behavioral training in the art of conversation as well as practice on how to create and cultivate meaningful relationships outside of technology.
2. Encourage your child to join a community group of other peers who share similar interests. From church groups to community sports teams, push your child out into the real world and away from the screens of mobile devices.
3. After school activities are another great resource to help teenagers feel connected to a group setting and combat isolation.
Do you remember your BFF from high school? My BFF lives in Atlanta with her husband and son. When we talk on the telephone, it is as if we are transported back to Spanish class whispering in the corner. I have no doubt that our friendship bolstered our confidence as two #GeekGirls not belonging to any particular clique. Our friends not only save us from those spinach-in-your-teeth moments, but more importantly they save our lives.
Your Mindful BFF,