How Do Our Young People Communicate Today: What is the Downside and What Can We Do About It? Part One

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Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

Children and adolescents seem to communicate with their peers more electronically than face to face. They chat with their friends through instant messaging, texting, social network sites such as Facebook and email. Often times they are multi-tasking; they may be texting several of their friends while chatting via instant message and at the same time listening to the latest music download.

There world is insular, in constant motion and seemingly never ending. There is information sharing in these messages which appear to be slightly exaggerated sound bites. Discussions about homework, sports and the latest trends are shared. Drama and conflict are also included in these conversations, but there is no real means to resolve them.


Their online conversations tend to be short, but the back and forth dialogue with a multitude of friends can last for hours and simultaneously they are playing the latest video game. They also consider playing online games with their friends as meaningful contact and conversation. This seems more like parallel play as opposed to really being engaged with one another

Many young people prefer to communicate electronically rather than face to face. This is because face to face communication has become foreign to them since they have limited experience communicating live-in person.

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Lack of experience talking directly to each other has caused this means of discussion to become threatening. Online chats are communicated through keyboard strokes and can be discontinued at any time. It would be awkward to end a face to face discussion abruptly. It is probably even more uncomfortable for kids to begin a face to face discussion.

Multi-tasking electronically creates anxiety and diminishes meaningful discussion and relationships. Many children and adolescents feel like their life is empty if they don’t devote an inordinate amount of time each day to multi-tasking. It seems that the absence of moving from one text to another then to an online chat and then to one’s Facebook page creates an alarming boredom. This sense that there is nothing to do eventually creates an anxiety that causes emotional outbursts or increased sadness.

Mastery of face to face or direct communication is important because connecting deeply with others is one of the most rewarding aspects of being alive. It is also an important life skill. It still is not possible to conduct a job interview in a text message. Young folks need to learn how to ask and answer direct questions.

Lack of face to face communication eliminates the process of attempting to problem solve together. Sometimes you have conflicts with those you love that require a real commitment to working through these issues. This process takes time and energy. It is also very fulfilling once you obtain real resolution.

The use of electronics as the main means of communication does not support this intensity or sense of purpose. The reliance on these gadgets causes kids to not have the patience for long, meaningful discussion.

How do young people communicate face to face if they have limited experience doing so? One of the pitfalls here is that they don’t learn effective listening skills or even the ability to act like they are paying attention to someone else in the room.

They either talk over the other person or they don’t pay attention to anyone else around them. If you enter any family restaurant you will notice the parents talking with each other while their children are either listening to their Ipods, playing on a Gameboy or texting a friend.

When I have worked with kids and their parents at eliminating or reducing their screen time, the children tend to have reactions that are similar to drug withdrawal. They become extremely moody and agitated. They are relentless in wanting access to their devices. They may develop sleep or appetite disturbance.

Children and adolescents mostly utilize cell phones for their main mode of communicating-text messages. Parents buy their kids cell phones for the false sense of security that they will be able to reach them at all times, but many kids will simply not answer their phones when their parent’s caller ID phone number comes up.

What can parents do about this phenomenon? You can model effective communication with other adults in your life as well as your children. You can insist that they not have ear bugs on while you are attempting to talk with them. You can also limit your children’s time on these gadgets.

Being a parent is the most difficult job in the world. It is especially tough now with the downfall of the economy. These days’ parents have to work many hours during the week often traveling much of the time.

Try to spend quality time with your kids talking about how they feel about school, their future and their relationship with you. Help them get beyond one word responses.

Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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