Does Your Child Only Have Online Friends? Here's What to Do.
In the age of the internet, more and more children are going online to make friends. The COVID-19 pandemic has also made more people go online to find social connections, and virtual communities have started to thrive. However. if your child ONLY has online friends, then that is a cause for concern.
Here’s why your child only has online friends:
- What needs he is fulfilling by having online friends? Is his need for connection and understanding not being met in real life?
- Is he bullied at school? Does he have friends that he can hang out with in his neighborhood? How does he feel on a day to day basis?
- Is your child a gamer? Online friends can also be a means of recreation. Think afterschool sports teammates, it’s the same type of community.
Let’s explore why your child only has online friends, why they may spend excessive time gaming on the internet, how that translates to behavior at home. Read on to find out what you can do to help him make real-life friends, reduce his time spent gaming, and what you as a parent can do to create the best environment for your child’s growth.
If video games are leading your child, helping him overcome it does not have to be a one-person endeavor. It can be difficult to get on the same page as your kid and get him to stop spending the whole day gaming. We’ve worked with thousands of gamers, and we know we can help you, too. Click here to learn more about Healthy Gamer Parent Coaching.
Often times, children only have online friends because they are addicted to video games. They find themselves in friend groups of kids who play video games, which exacerbates their video game addiction. If you suspect this to be the case, this quiz can help you determine that:
Why Your Child Needs More Than Online Friends
Children have had long-lasting online relationships since the beginning of the internet. This fact worries many parents because they are concerned that their kid’s online friends are trying to take advantage of their child. While this can certainly be the case in some scenarios, most children’s online friends are similar kids looking for social connection online.
However, if your child ONLY has online friends, that can be a problem. If they do not interact with other kids in real life, that could hamper their growth and prevent them from forming meaningful connections with people.
Moreover, if the child only hangs out with his online friends, they could miss out on activities that any healthy child should be participating in. Playing outside with real-life friends, getting physical activity, and forming authentic bonds are crucial aspects of a child’s healthy development.
Most parents try to solve this problem by restricting their child’s access to their friends. However, that hardly ever works out well because the kid becomes upset and throws a tantrum. There is an excellent reason for this, which we will explore further in this article.
Why Your Child Only Has Online Friends
The first step to solving a problem is finding the root cause. Here are some of the most common reasons your child only has online friends.
He may be bullied at school and face a lot of judgment. One of the most common reasons children turn to the internet to find friends is because they don’t feel accepted in real life. In real life, people judge each other for all sorts of things: financial status, the color of their skin, their speech, intelligence, what clothes they wear, etc.
However, on the internet, and especially in gaming communities, these attributes become irrelevant. Most online communities form through a shared interest. The people in these communities only care about interacting in a way that involves that shared interest. For example, a community formed around the game Fortnite may only care about your child’s skill in Fortnite. In other words, your child will feel accepted, regardless of his other attributes.
Therefore, online communities and online friends can be the ultimate haven for a child who gets bullied and feels judged by the people around him.
It would also be an excellent opportunity to consider your relationship with your child — do you think he shares his feelings with you? How do you respond? Does he feel like he can share anything with you?
If not, then that may also be a significant contributing factor. Children can grow attached to their online friends if they do not feel an authentic emotional connection at home. That makes it especially hard for them when they are not allowed to interact with their online friends. They feel completely alone and isolated in the world and may even start to resent you for taking away their only source of emotional and social connection.
The Connection with Gaming
Additionally, one of the ways that children nowadays cope with bullying is to turn to video games. Video games are the perfect escape from a world that does not accept them. They also come with communities consisting of other kids who feel similarly rejected.
These communities can be the haven that your child desires, and if you take that away from him, he will start to act out. His brain is not developed enough to understand and process his emotions, so the only thing he can do is act out or throw a tantrum.
Additionally, video games also affect the brain in particular ways, making it hard for a child to stop playing them. It does not necessarily mean that they are addicted to video games, but if gaming starts to take over other parts of their lives, it becomes a real possibility.
In this video, Dr. Alok Kanojia talks about authentic relationships through gaming.
Solutions Parents Normally Try
- The most common solution that parents use to encourage their children to make more friends in real life is to take away their child’s access to their online friends.
- They set boundaries and limitations on the child’s access to his friends.
- They keep an eye on the friends that their kid is making online.
Why Those Solutions Don’t Work
Here’s why taking away your child’s access to their online friends will not work:
- When you take away the child’s only source of social and emotional connection, then they start to feel incredibly lonely.
- He loses connection with the only people he thinks understand him. Therefore, he does not feel connected with anyone else.
- He throws a tantrum and acts out because his fundamental human need for social interaction and connection has just been taken away.
- He cannot engage in any other activities because his mind is wrestling with the emotional pain of being alone and not being understood by anyone. Moreover, if your child is a gamer, then other activities may pale in comparison. Games are highly enjoyable and engage their brain in specific ways, so getting them to read a book or play outside may not be a viable alternative.
- Additionally, parents relax their boundaries when the child does well and deserves a reward. This concession makes the boundary flexible in the child’s mind.
- Monitoring your child’s online activity means that they never learn how to manage their online presence independently. Cyber-spying indicates that there is not enough communication between a parent and a child on the dangers of the internet and what one should do to manage one’s online presence.
In this video, Dr. K talks about the biggest challenges with trying to regulate video game addiction.
Understanding Your Child
The most common mistake that we make as parents is not understanding where our child is coming from. They can give us a lot of insight into why they behave the way they do if we talk to them.
Therefore the solution is first to understand the child. The first step is to get on the same team and have a conversation with him.
However, your child mustn’t feel like he will lose access to his online friends by having this conversation with you. If you have previously tried to talk to him about his online friends, and that conversation ended in him not being allowed to hang out with them, he will most likely fear that outcome again. Therefore, make it clear that you will not prevent him from talking to his friends and that you want to understand him.
Here are some questions you can ask your child to learn more about their online friendships:
- Where are they from?
- How old are they?
- What makes him enjoy his company with them?
- What do they do together?
- What do they talk about?
It would be best if you asked these questions to understand him. This opportunity is not the time to take action and reduce his time spent online. Your child needs to feel that he is being listened to.
Encouraging Your Child to Make Real-Life Friends
Once you have a good understanding of your child’s social circle, you can try to start working with him to help him make more friends in real life. However, first, we need to see why he only has online friends. Here are some things you can think about:
- What needs he is fulfilling by having online friends?
- A need for connection and understanding.
- The sense of belonging in a tribe or group.
- If your child is a gamer, online friends can also be a means of recreation. Think teammates.
- Why are your child’s needs lacking in real life?
- Is he bullied at school?
- Does he have friends that he can hang out with in his neighborhood?
- How does he feel on a day to day basis?
- Get on the same team as him.
- Don’t come from a place of taking away his access to his online friends.
- Have conversations aimed at understanding your child. Build rapport with him around this topic. Approach the situation from a place of understanding and not from a place of taking action.
- Allow him to become comfortable talking about his online friends to you. It may take some time. Patience is critical in this scenario.
- If he is gaming with his online friends, understand his gaming habits.
- Siting with him while he plays is a good idea. You can do something that you want, such as reading a book.
- If he gets uncomfortable, reassure him that you’re just there to be with him and you aren’t there to stop him from gaming.
Actions Steps to Support Your Child
Once you have built an appropriate rapport, start to integrate your child into your decision-making process. Explain your reasoning. Make decisions together. However, it is also essential to set reasonable and practical boundaries. Additionally, enforcing and troubleshooting these boundaries is a crucial step.
Problem-solve with him around interacting with friends at school. Here are some questions to ask:
- What’s going wrong?
- What’s getting in the way of him being social in real life?
After a few weeks of developing rapport with him and starting to make him feel understood, you can start to make tiny changes around his gaming habits.
Check out our blog post on how to detox your child from video games to understand the most effective and friction-free way of doing that. Please note that this will be the most effective if your child can interact with other children in real life.
It can be hard to know how to raise and nurture your child alone. If you have trouble with:
- Regulating your kid’s online and gaming habits.
- Managing your child’s expectations.
- Setting and enforcing fair boundaries.
- Dealing with unexpected resistance from your child.
- Creating the best possible environment for your child’s growth.
Then Healthy Gamer Family Support Program can help you. Click here to learn more.
If your child only has online friends, then that means that some of their needs aren’t being met. They might feel alone, be bullied at school, and not fit in with the other kids. As a result, your child may have turned to gaming and online communities for that sense of connection. He found an internet community that supports him and shares interests with him.
While this sense of connection is something that your child needs, the excessive gaming and time spent online can impact other parts of his life. Therefore, it is crucial to understand why he plays video games and only has online friends.
Once you have had multiple conversations with your child and gotten on the same team as him, you can work with him to set appropriate and effective boundaries. You can also enforce those boundaries, deal with resistance, and create an environment that lets your child unlock his full potential.
Additionally, you don’t have to do it alone. The Healthy Gamer Family Support Program is a 12-week virtual coaching solution created by Dr. Alok Kanojia, known as Dr. K, the world expert on video game psychology. The Family Support Program covers the most frustrating, challenging, and common dynamics around excessive gaming, including:
- Managing your child’s expectations
- Setting and enforcing fair, effective boundaries
- Dealing with resistance from your child
- Approaching your child’s psychology based on their stage in adolescence
- Adapting your approach for autism, ADHD, mood disorders, or substance use
For 12 consecutive weeks, participants get access to a lecture plus Q&A with Dr. K and weekly support groups led by Healthy Gamer Coaches. The dual support structure helps parents get started, and follow-through in helping their children combat excessive gaming.
Click here to learn more about the Healthy Gamer Family Support Program.