I am like many of you. My home is plagued with a strange inhabitant. A human being at the most pivotal, tumultuous time of their life. I have a teenager. And my teenaged-human is not just any teenaged-human, this one is a 15 year old girl in her first year of high school.
Rewind to September 2013 when all of us, my husband and I included, were nervous and excited for the start of a new chapter in her life. We were ready. We had spent the summer (and honestly a large part of grade 8) having the “talks”. Sex, drugs and even rock n’ roll. We were on the same page, except for the rock n’ roll part. We considered ourselves experts on the topic seeing as both of us successfully (but not with out issues) survived those years and made it out to the other side generally unscathed. We prepped her on the types of people she would meet (jocks, nerds, jerks, drama queens, shy kids, cool kids etc.) and on how to pretend to be confident. We let her in on a little secret we had gleaned from our experiences at school. No one felt confident in the beginning. Not even the cool kids, they were actually just faking it.
As she entered school things seemed to be going really well. Not only did she manage to “fake it” but she also realized that her parents knew what we were talking about. All the types of people we described were part of her high school experience. She started to trust us in a new way. We found out that nothing had really changed in the 25 years since we first entered high school and we felt pretty damn good! We had helped her successfully negotiate the first few months of high school.
We would soon learn how wrong we were.
Although school itself had not changed much, there were still cool kids, not so cool kids, nerds, jocks and burn-outs, technology had changed it immeasurably. Teenagers still exist in all their glory, but now they have new strange ways of communicating.
We gave our daughter a cell phone for Christmas in grade 8. We waited for many reasons but as she got older we realized that they were becoming a vital tool in her ability to effectively socialize with her peers and we didn’t want her to be left out. Part of me wishes I knew then what I know now. Our children are regressing. They are missing a critical skill since we started giving them cell phones. They stopped talking. To each other, and to us. We thought phones would help them talk more but in fact it had the opposite effect.
You could argue that they talk more. They text constantly. My daughter sends and receives upwards of 20,000 messages a month. That’s a lot of talking. Ever read what they say? Most of it is meaningless babble over-run with smiley faces of different emoticons. And truthfully, although there are many emoticons to choose from, they don’t accurately represent the full range of emotions that humans are capable of. Read their communications and you will learn that they also say things that they would likely never have the guts to say to someone in person. My daughter for example flirts overtly with a number of boys at a time. Many of whom she has never said one word to in public, and likely never will. And don’t forget the issue of cyber-bullying and how easy it is to say hateful things anonymously using apps like “Ask.fm” and “Hot or Not” that is another topic entirely. This concerns me greatly. This should concern you too.
Parents of these strange humans need to start a movement. We need to force our children to stop texting and start talking. Real talk, in person and on the phone. I for one am going to start making my daughter talk on the phone to a real person each night. If she is interested in a boy and he is interested in her, it will be a requirement that they talk on the phone at least 2 times a week. If he is uncool with this arrangement then he is not worthy of my girl. Real talk allows us to build meaningful relationships because we can hear emotions that can’t be communicated by text and emoticons. We can hear laughter, sadness, loss, anger, stress and the full range of emotions we possess.
Cell phones can be wonderful tools for communication, but they can’t replace genuine face to face and voice to voice interactions that we humans crave. We as parents need to start teaching our children to speak with their voices. Let us all work together to force them to use the tools we gave them in a better way. Please force your teens to use the phone.