Communication has reached a whole new level. Facebook, currently, has 250 million pictures uploaded each day. YouTube has over 80 billion videos. Last year, over 6.1 trillion texts were sent. That’s a whole lot of socializing!
We live in a world with unparalleled means to communicate, and with these technological advances comes a whole new language to express ourselves. There is a myriad of ways to talk and share life with other people—Facebook, iPads, smart phones, texting, Twitter, e-mail, YouTube, websites, blogs, RSS feeds, Skype—we can be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere, twenty-four seven!
You would think that with all the avenues to talk and engage, this generation would have strong communication skills and the ability to develop deep, personal relationships. But sadly, it’s the exact opposite. Kids are communicating, but they’re not connecting. Author Stephen Marche, in his article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” put it perfectly:
“Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. … Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.” – Stephen Marche, Atlantic article, “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” [The Atlantic, 5/12]
Our kids desperately want to connect. The need for relationships, for community, for a place of belonging drives teens. But since they haven’t learned how to make connections any other way than through the Internet or through a series of text messages, teens go to extremes to bond with others. They get tattoos, or they post inappropriate photos on Facebook, or change their behavior drastically—all in an attempt to make lasting connections with other people.
I own a smart phone. I text, I email, and I use Facebook. These are not bad devices. We don’t need to start a bonfire and starting throwing them on the coals. The danger, however, becomes when our kids (or ourselves for that matter) become so immersed in the blinking lights and bleeping sounds of our devices that we neglect face-to-face conversation or spending time with other people. I’ve found an easy formula; more screen time and less people time equals stunted growth for us and our teens. It’s really that simple. In this over-stimulated culture of ours, we have got to teach our teens competency in connecting; how to interact and communicate with the world around them in a way that provides them with community and acceptance. If we don’t, our kids will lose these three things: depth of conversation, decorum and depth of relationships.
Depth of Conversation
Is talking to your teen like pulling teeth? Do you have to strain and struggle to get complete sentences out of your son or daughter? New forms of communication ingrain in our kids that if you can’t say it using only one-hundred and forty characters, then it’s not worth saying. Talking via Twitter and text has spawned an entire new language where brevity is art. In that environment, there is no room for deep, meaningful conversation. The dialogue is either one-way or short and brief. Facebook is beneficial for talking to long lost friends, chatting with people, or telling your parents what you did for the summer. But too often, a Facebook page transforms into a narcissistic scream for attention. Look at what I did! Listen to what I am saying! Someone pay attention to me! It turns into a world revolving around the teen.
If you feel your child is slipping into this mode of connecting and communicating, get them talking! Model for them the importance of deep conversations. When they talk to you, drop what you’re doing (if you can), turn to face them, look them in the eye, and verbally acknowledge them. Show them what it looks like to engage in face-to-face time. And expect the same thing of them.
I read a story recently about two young boys who had given up trying to engage their dad in conversation. He was always on the computer or playing a video game. When they would pipe up and say “Hey, dad, can I show you something?” the dad would often not even look up and would often respond with, “Give me five minutes” and go back to looking at his screen. Those kids are looking for connections and communication and they will go to any lengths to get it. So model deep conversations around your home, and engage your kids in meaningful communication.
The false security of a computer screen allows many teens to say and post things they would never do out in the real world. They use coarse language, post sexually explicit photos or messages, or taunt and bully other people. Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube—they all offer some level of anonymity and kids can’t see the consequences of their behaviors online like they would in real life. It’s also changing the way kids resolve conflicts. Instead of meeting someone in person to settle disputes, they are taking to the screens to wage battles. The digital wars that are raised and fought through text messages and websites may not be bloody, but they can still destroy lives.
If your teen says or posts something disrespectful, hurtful, or inappropriate on the web or through their phone, don’t explode. Ask them, is this an image that you want everyone to see? Will this hurt or help your relationships? Explain the damage that can happen when posting too much information or acting a certain way online. Dads—don’t let your sons break up with girlfriends on the phone or by text. Make them talk in person. Moms—if your daughter is fighting with someone, encourage her to meet that person and resolve it verbally. Stripped of the safety of the screen, teens will learn and develop their sense of decorum, respect, and conflict resolution.
Depth of Relationships
We are community-oriented creatures. We crave relationships with other people. And the only way to build a relationship with another person is to spend time and talk with them. Not email. Not text. Talk.
But many teens are missing out. According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, about three-quarters of teens use their phones to text, sending an average of sixty messages a day. Fewer than 40% of teens use their phone to actually call somebody.
So how do we get our kids off the phone and engaging? Start a once a week “Plugged-in” night. Set up a box near the living room, and every member has to drop their phone off into the box before they come in. Then start a fire, play a game, talk about the day or events in the world. If once a week is too much, consider putting aside the phone and electronics once a month, and show your kids they can function without them. Also, spend time with your kids away from television, computers or phones. Take them out to breakfast, talk and share a meal together. Don’t run to the extreme and ban Facebook, texts, text or Twitter. Instead, give your kids options. Invite their friends to go camping with you. Plan a group date for the movies. Go out for coffee and ask questions. Show your teen that deep relationships aren’t formed by typing on a screen.
Need some more tips to pry the kids away from the screens? On this weekend’s Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast, Joey O’Connor will give us some more pointers. As a dad to a few teenagers, Joey has developed some strategies and techniques to teach kids competency in connecting that we could all use. Because, frankly, it’s not just our teens who need help in this area—we’re all a little too consumed with technology. Joey will offer some insight into breaking us, and our kids, out of our communication dependency.
We’ve gotten to be good communicators. We are experts at throwing words out there. But with all the talking, this generation is missing out on connecting. Teaching competency in connecting doesn’t mean throwing electronics or technologies out the window. But it does involve turning off the phone or computer and saying, Let’s talk.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas. For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Go to www.heartlightministries.org. Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173. Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.