The Importance of “Micro-Connections” to your Teen’s Mental Health
One Today’s headlines constantly remind us that we are in the middle of a “Mental Health Crisis.” Increased funding for psychiatric urgent care facilities, medications and advertisements for suicide hot lines is common proof. Perhaps your own family has seen and wrestled with mental health issues. Where did it all come from, and why is it so prevalent? Well - that’s a huge question, with a very complex answer, but one little part of it that you might not be aware of is the loss of Micro Connections within our communities.
Micro Connections are the small, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness that we offer friends and acquaintances - or even complete strangers - throughout the day when we see them in person and have small conversations. Micro Connections make us feel like, “the world is a friendly place,” and “I belong here.” These small acts of kindness build layers of connection that make us feel “seen” and “known.” Some examples might be when we see someone from school at the grocery store, or our Dentist at the ice-cream parlor, and say a simple, “Hello”. Friday night football or basketball games are another example and traditionally function as mass community “mixers” where diverse people groups have an opportunity to rub shoulders with and speak to neighbors as well as complete strangers who live in the same community.
During the 2020 Pandemic, when American culture switched overnight from connecting in person to connecting via online communication tools, a host of opportunities for small daily in-person connections were lost. The list of lost micro-connections is pervasive: student to teacher interactions, friend to friend small talk, attending church, ordering food in person at a restaurant, shopping in person. Even as these connections are slowly being reinstated, many people continue to prefer interacting with people via text, social media, or a predetermined in-person appointment; making their social circles and number of micro-connections very small and less diverse. Having missed out on 18 months of “normal” casual conversation, teens may feel less equipped to engage in the art of “small talk," increasing feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
Micro Connections are an important step towards developing friendships, building confidence and overcoming social isolation. They offer small, low risk interactions where we can build confidence and discover common interests. Parents can help their children (and maybe even themselves!) by intentionally engaging in person to person Micro Connections. Here are just a few opportunities to develop this skill:
1. Teach your teen how to make small talk. The main rule of initiating a Micro Connection is to be genuinely curious about someone else’s life. Teach your teen to start conversations by asking open ended, general questions, then, as they gain information about another person, they will have the opportunity to ask for more specifics. This conversation starter technique demonstrates both interest and intelligence.
2. Challenge your teen to initiate conversation with least 3 people - and report at dinner on who they spoke with - or join Caroline Maguire’s Micro Connections a Day Challenge.
3. Encourage your teen to get involved with a community service organization where he or she can interact with other community members, for example at a local animal shelter or kid’s afterschool club.
4. Make it a habit to walk in and order at a local coffee shop or restaurant instead of going through the drive thru.
5. Attend church in person instead of watching online.
Hopefully these ideas will inspire your family towards being more interactively connected to your in-person community. Some of these activities may be uncomfortable for your teen, especially if your teen is introverted or shy. However, the payoff for stretching out of their comfort zone could be a sense of belonging in your community that will boost your whole family’s mental health.