Friendship

TCKs, Friendship, & Social Media

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  Technology has enhanced the ability for this generation of TCKs to maintain long-term relationships with others no matter where in the world they are. This can be both a huge asset and also a potential pitfall. Third Culture Kids live a mobile lifestyle and live in a world where others around them are also constantly coming and going. This continuous exchange of people makes it difficult for TCKs to develop deep friendships both logistically (because either they or their new friend may leave before the relationship deepens) and emotionally (they begin to fear attempting a deep relationship because there is a high chance that they or their friend will leave).

Social media seems to be a good solution to this problem.

TCKs can make friends and even when they (or their friend) leave, keep up with them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or a plethora of other social media platforms. This, in some ways, eliminates the reasons TCKs find to not pursue friendships because a long-distance friendship is now easy. However, it also increases, the common TCK problem of forgoing deep friendships.

Social media becomes a great way to have 1,000 surface-level friendships with people all across the globe without the risk of being emotionally hurt by someone leaving yet again. 

To the TCK who has been hurt, this may sound like a great option. They may even do this subconsciously. TCKs are notoriously great at the beginning stages of relationships. Thus, they are prone to making friends easily, "friending" them on Facebook, and never allowing those friendships to become real, deep relationships. Social media makes friendship safe for TCKs because they don't have to go deep in order to be "friends" and to keep up with each other's lives from the other side of the globe.  Social media can be a huge asset to 21st century TCKs, but it is so important that it doesn't also become a tool for keeping friendships at a safe, surface level. This does not mean that TCKs need to be, or should be, "deep" friends with everyone or that they need to have a significant number of deep friendships, but, it is critical to their well-being that they have at least a handful of people who truly know and love them.

If you are raising TCKs, encourage them to be intentional about developing deep friendships with people locally. Once they have those deep friendships, those relationships can be fostered and continued on through the use of social media if they or their friend move away. Because it can be easy (and often feels safer) for TCKs to spend their time on social media with acquaintances and simply add more people to their "friends" list instead of working to develop deep friendships, it is critical that, as parents, you actively encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and let people really get to know them. While there is always a risk of your child or your child's friend moving away, there is a bigger risk to never developing real, deep friendships. Thankfully, social media is available to allow those friendships to continue even if it, one day, has to be long-distance.

5 Ways You Can Help Your Children Foster Long-Distance Friendships

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  It is a common misconception that when you move overseas as a family, your children will forever loose the close friends that they had back home. While it is not easy for children and teens to maintain long-distance friendships, it is possible and completely worth the effort.

Here are 5 ways that you, as a parent, can help your TCKs to foster long-distance friendships when you move overseas. I wrote last week about my friend, Corrie. These ideas stem from our many years as long-distance friends.

1) Make writing a habit. Help your child write their friend once a week, either via email or physical letters. If you are homeschooling, consider making this a weekly "assignment". You can be creative with your young TCKs and give them writing prompts such as: "Tell so-and-so about some of your favorite things in this country", "Write about some things that you miss", "Tell so-and-so what a typical day looks like", "Tell them what you would love to show them if they came to visit." Older children and teens may benefit more from gentle encouragement.

2) Create a video or video-chat. Shortly after moving to Africa, I decided to create a video to send to my best friend, Corrie, back in the US. In those days, it was an actual videotape and it took 6 weeks to get to her in the mail. Now, you can do this quickly, easily, and possibly live by using an internet program like Skype. Have your child give a video tour of your home, neighborhood, local market, school, even introduce them to some of their new friends! Corrie still talks about how helpful it was for her to be able to picture the places and people I was referring to when we would talk on the phone or write letters. The video helped her to feel a bit connected to my world.

3) Send gifts. For birthdays, Christmases, or just because, consider sending a gift from your new country. Corrie loved the African trinkets that I mailed to her, and I loved the chocolate chips and other yummy American goodies that she mailed back!

4) Be intentional during furlough. Looking back, it was the times spent with Corrie each time we were back in the US on home assignment that really solidified our friendship. We would rework our friendship, learning how to be friends as older versions of ourselves, and that would launch us into the next long-distance season. While on furlough, my parents were amazingly intentional and willing to let me spend copious amounts of time with Corrie- driving us back and forth between each other's houses, allowing for multi-night sleepovers, and buying us craft supplies so we could create art projects together.

5) Invite them to visit. I have known entire families who went to visit their friends living overseas as a family vacation and cultural experience for their kids. I have also heard of teen's friends who were able to visit as a short-term missions trip, coming to help with a specific event or project. It may seem unlikely, but put the invitation out there and see what happens! What better way for them to truly understand your TCK's overseas experience than to see it firsthand!

Navigating long-distance friendships can be challenging, and may take some effort on your part as a parent. However, these forever-friendships are so valuable for your TCKs, that they are absolutely worth the time and energy. TCKs don't often have people, other than family, in their lives who have known them forever, and this can contribute to that sense of rootlessness many feel. A forever-friend can give TCKs a sense of grounded-ness and belonging, and that is an invaluable gift. 

TCKs CAN have forever friends

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"It's sad that my daughter won't be able to continue her friendship with her best friend since we're moving to Europe."

"7 year olds just can't maintain a long-distance friendship, so it almost doesn't seem worth the effort to try."

"I'm struggling with the fact that my kids will never have forever friends because of our choice to move overseas."

I have heard these words come from the mouths of many parents who have chosen to move overseas as a family. I think they often expect me to respond with a "True, but it is so worth it!" But, I don't. Instead, my answer is, "False. Let me tell you about my best friend, Corrie."

Corrie and I became fast friends in the 5th grade. We climbed trees and perfected the art of pancake making. (Our mothers were remarkably patient when Saturday mornings turned their kitchens into 10-year old culinary experiments.) We had sleepovers and tobagganed down the stairs in sleeping bags. Then we struggled together through the friend drama, zits and insecurity of being almost 13. When my family moved to Africa in the 7th grade, leaving my best friend was, by far, the hardest part. But, we were determined to keep in touch and to not let our friendship end.

During those first couple of years in Africa, internet was spotty (when it was available at all) and short phone calls were only occasionally possible. We exchanged e-mails when the internet was good, and snail-mail in between. At one point, I mailed her a videotape with a tour of our house, neighborhood, new African friends, and my new school. It got to her 6 weeks after I mailed it, and it was the perfect way for her to see a glimpse of my life in Africa. Our communication wasn't incredibly frequent and there were some stretches that it dropped off completely, but we always got back in touch.

During our furloughs back in the US, we would rekindle our friendship, each time relearning how to be friends with the older versions of ourselves. Those times weren't easy, but again, we were determined and intentional. 

We attended colleges in different parts of the US; Corrie in California and myself in Indiana. But, since we were no stranger to maintaining a long-distance friendship, the distance during those college years didn't stop us from navigating an adult version of our friendship. She flew out to visit me, we spent countless hours on the phone, and she even went with me back to Africa to visit my family for summer break one year.

We were the Maids of Honor in each other's weddings, have taken many trips back and forth to visit each other over the past few years, and now have babies 8 months apart. She and her 7 month old boy are currently sitting in my living room visiting for the week and I am overjoyed reminiscing about the way our friendship has grown and flourished despite the unconventional twists and turns that come with being best friends with a missionary kid.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, says,

"Good friends are like breakfast. You think you're too busy to eat breakfast but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky half way through the day and you discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired."

Maintaining friendships while living the life of a global nomad is challenging, time consuming, and may take dedication from you as the parent to help facilitate the communication between your child and their best friend, but IT IS SO WORTH IT. Corrie has been one of the very few constants in my life. She knew me pre-missionary kid, she walked with me through many TCK struggles, and she has loved me in a new ways as we've both become wives and mothers. She truly knows me better than just about anyone, and that is pretty special.

So, while it is not easy and may even seem unlikely, know that your kids can maintain friendships when you move across the globe. Not only is it possible, but I can't imagine many things more precious.

How can you as a parent help your TCKs foster their long-distance friendships? Check back later this week for some practical tips!