Communication Competence in the Digital Age

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It came up in conversation with friends over the weekend: are kids going to know how to socialize – that is talk, approach each other – away from their smartphones and texting devices in the future? With teens texting more than 100 messages a day (per a Pew Research Center study), it’s pretty apparent a lot of “conversation” that was once face-to-face is now happening via texting.

Then I saw this article in The Atlantic titled “My Students Don’t Know How to Have a Conversation.” This high school teacher points out that his students are so distracted by texting, that they have no real-time conversation engagement or skills. In addition to their reduced ability to socialize amongst themselves off the smartphones, they are struggling to have conversations about anything with anyone, which is going to be a problem when they go interview for college or a job later in life. And it’s a lot easier to say mean things or things you don’t really mean when you aren’t looking at someone face-to-face, hence a lot of bullying via online conversation.

I’d argue in addition to losing valuable verbal conversation skills to digital devices, kids are also missing out on learning how to read nonverbal cues in expressions and body language, a very valuable skill to have when entering into uncertain relationships and new environments. And LOL doesn’t replace a genuine laugh between friends, nor does a typed sad face or heart replace a real, live hug when someone needs that one-on-one comfort. Kids aren’t the only ones losing their social graces and verbal abilities, I know adults that are fully able to carry on eloquent conversations, that are dumbing it down to texts, and who are texting when out with friends and family they would normally be conversing with if no digital device was in their hand. Though easy to say “digital devices down,” it doesn’t seem easy to do – I’m guilty, too. And adults need to remember those rules about be careful what you text that we tell our teens, also applies to us.

So what do we do? Well for starters we can put down our phones and talk to our children. No texting or phones out at the dinner table. Make actual eye contact when you talk to people, especially your children. Go for a walk outside, in the woods, unplugged and see what your child might open up and share (just like this mom did). And be an example to your kids. The old adage “do what I say, not what I do,” just doesn’t hold up.