What a 10-year-old can teach us about relationships...

As we welcome in the month of August, I can’t help but feel the excitement swirling as the new school year approaches. 

Maybe that's because I live with two little girls who have nightly debates about what type of backpack they should carry and make predictions about who their teacher will be. 

But whether back-to-school shopping is on your to-do list or not, storefronts and Facebook posts make you acutely aware the start of a new school year is upon us.

As the time approaches, I can’t help but think of my time in school—both the fun times and the awkward times.

If you’re like me, there are more than a few awkward moments that stand out—whether you were the last one picked in dodgeball, or became the butt of a joke, or you found yourself alone at a lunch table—not one of us escapes our school years without at least one uncomfortable encounter.

Exhibit A...

Adrian Chenault CEO, Contact Mapping Circa 1995

Adrian Chenault
CEO, Contact Mapping
Circa 1995

Exhibit B...

Rick Manelius CTO, Contact Mapping Circa 1995

Rick Manelius
CTO, Contact Mapping
Circa 1995

While some may assert these awkward encounters are simply a rite of passage into adulthood, there is one little boy who is turning the tide—one boy who doesn’t want fellow kids to feel left out, isolated, or alone at school.

This week, we are going to learn from a young boy named Christian Bucks. His ideas on inclusion and friendship are powerful for all ages and can have lasting implications for those of us on a mission to build meaningful relationships.


CHRISTIAN'S STORY

In 2013 10-year-old Christian Bucks was getting ready to move to Germany and was worried about being the new kid. In an effort to appease his fears, his parents researched the school he would attend and discovered they had a solution for Christian’s fears: the Buddy Bench.

Later that year, his family’s plans changed and they were no longer moving to Germany. But Christian couldn’t let go of the peace and comfort he found in knowing the Buddy Bench existed.

And so, Christian brought the idea up to his principal in Pennsylvania, and the first buddy bench made its way to the US. Since then, the idea has spread all over the country, and Buddy Benches can be found on school playgrounds worldwide—including this one at my kids’ school in Colorado. 

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The Rules of the Buddy Bench are simple:

  1. If you find yourself alone and want someone to play with, take a seat on the bench.

  2. Say “yes” to the first person who invites you to play.

  3. If you are playing and see someone sitting on the bench, invite them to play with you.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But, my friends, the need is SO real. 

According to the Washington Post, “One 2004 study in London found 80 percent of the kids between 8 and 10 years who were interviewed described being lonely at some point at school.” 

When we turn to adults, the numbers aren’t any better. From Forbes: “According to a 2018 survey from The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), more than two in ten adults in the United States (22%) and the United Kingdom (23%) say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.” 

So while we may not be able to set up adult “buddy benches” in workplaces or parks (or *gasp*...maybe we could?!) let’s apply what we have learned from Christian and see if there are ways we can incorporate the Buddy Bench rules into our own lives.


“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
— Henry David Thoreau

TIPS AND TRICKS

The Buddy Bench rules are simple, but can have direct implications for our own relationships. To apply the same three principles, let’s envision having our own proverbial Buddy Bench in our minds:

  1. When we’re lonely, reach out. Expose yourself for a moment—be vulnerable with someone close to you. Just like kids are asked to own up to their feelings of loneliness, so should we as emotionally capable adults. This doesn’t have to be self-deprecating, but rather an acknowledgment that we need a friend or a little extra support. 

  2. Say “yes.” Whether that’s “yes” to a phone call or “yes” to a coffee date or “yes” to having a texting conversation. When your support system is offering you an inclusive hand, say “yes.” 

  3. Look out for people on the bench. Even when the world looks great for you, and you’re having fun on life’s playground, just remember—someone is missing. There will always be someone on the outside, someone waiting to be included, someone new to the area, someone going through a hard time. And while it’s easy and comfortable to keep playing around with your close friends, keep your eyes out for those in the margins at work and in the margins of life. 

As you prepare to send your kids off into another school year (or prepare to spend more time in traffic when school goes back in session) let’s do our best to BE a buddy bench for friends in need. Then maybe, just maybe, we can spark change in our networks and our communities.


SPEAKING OF THE BUDDY BENCH...

Not sure what to say to someone sitting on the bench?

Want to learn 5 simple ways to start a conversation with LITERALLY anybody?

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