Benefits of Social Connectedness
A child's social connectedness, or their sense of closeness and belonging to a group, may be one of the most critical keys to their well-being. One notable longitudinal study followed found that social connection, not social class, IQ, or even genetics, was the best predictor of long and happy lives. The desire for belonging and connection is biologically hard-wired and we experience important physiological effects being in relationship with other people. Developing strong social connections in childhood can lead to them becoming happier and healthier adults, while social isolation and loneliness can lead to a myriad of negative health impacts.
Social connectedness and school engagement are intertwined. Middle school children with strong social connections and school engagement are shown to have less teenage substance use, fewer mental health problems, and greater academic outcomes in high school.
Source Credit: Greater Good Science Center, The Harvard Gazette, and Bond et al., 2007
Mental Health Effects of Social Connectedness
Social Connectedness is associated with the following health outcomes:
- Loneliness is a risk factor for poor cognitive performance and poor executive functioning.
- Loneliness is also a risk factor for more negative and depressive cognition
- Connectedness is a preventative factor for adolescent suicide
- Connectedness strengthens the immune system
- People who are connected have lower levels of anxiety and depression
- People who are connected have higher self-esteem and greater empathy for others
Source Credit: Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009, Stanford Medicine Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and Whitlok, Wyman, & Moore, 2014
Tips for Cultivating Social Connection
Here are several ways to encourage children to cultivate social connection and become more engaged at their school:
- Join an athletic team where they can practice and compete with peers.
- Join or create a club on campus centered around their interests.
- Host your child’s friends for a movie night or other get-together.
- Set regular bedtime and morning routines.
- Schedule vacations and medical appointment during school breaks or after school.
- As a parent, show your own engagement with your child's school by asking your child what they are learning and helping with homework.
Being in school is important for students to maintain and grow behavioral, social-emotional, and academic skills. Excessive absences can serve as early indicators that a child is struggling, losing interest, or experiencing another difficulty while at school. If your child does not want to go to school, talk to them about the reasons for their aversion. Chronic absenteeism is the greatest predictor of school failure and is associated with engaging in risky health behaviors. Children who are absent miss valuable instruction time and are not able to be provided with the support they may need.
Absenteeism is associated with grade retention and poor academic performance. Missing school can have deleterious effects on academic performance, not only for the absent student, but also for the classroom as a whole.
Students learn proper behavior interacting with each other and being in a school community. Missing school may contribute to on-going behavior problems.
Students build social-emotional skills working and playing with peers and friends. In addition, Livermore schools are educating students on specific social-emotional skills through the Choose Love program. If your elementary-aged child is having difficulties with social connectedness, contact your school's office to inquire about the Kid Connection Program.
Source Credit: American Academy of Pediatrics; Gottfried, 2015