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Have Our Kids Lost the Skill of Face-to-Face Communication? Join the conversation...

Have our kids lost the skill of face to face communication (1)

"Look over there, kids. You see that cocoon? That caterpillar is rebranding." - 21st Century Parenting

I was at a wedding not that long ago, enjoying some face-to-face conversation with the random people I happened to be sitting with. They were obviously enthusiastic parents who wanted the best for their kids. We spent a large amount of time chit-chatting about the many TV auditions and theater productions all three of their children were involved with.

What added to the conversation was the presence of these children at the table. I could tell each was sharp enough to not dominate the conversation, yet still forward enough to add to it with random contributions.

It was almost as if their parents had coached them about how to have a mature dialogue with adults.

In my experience, this is an under-developed skill in the emerging generation. The Pew Research Centre in America recently surveyed almost 2,500 teachers and found that while many thought that the internet had a "mostly positive" impact on students' research work, 87% felt modern technologies were creating an "easily distracted generation with short attention spans."

It's what you see as you talk with tech-savvy kids who would rather keep pecking away at their mobile devices, slowly drifting their eyes up when you insist upon their attention.

I've heard of teachers who address this by having whole-class discussions around hot topics, which then lead into one-on-one debriefs. Others integrate technology by having students create podcasts in small groups, forcing them to share their feelings about certain themes.

What are we doing to coach kids in this around our homes?

Conversational competence isn't the hottest major at most universities when compared with the many professions that require engaging with thoughts and people through screens. Toss in some puberty, and it's even more "reasonable" why we wouldn't press our kids to learn how to generate a dialogue, stand up for convictions or volley a conversation.

I'm not suggesting that tech is evil, but that even in an era when most job applications begin online there is still a need to know how to carry a conversation. How many text messages will they send to negotiate a pay raise? What in their future marriages will be worked out with a selfie?

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and MIT professor, offered this observation:

“Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits … we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions. We dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”

Let's help each other out on this.

Let's have a conversation as parents and talk to each other about how to rally face-to-face communication in our families. With our kids. And with ourselves.

Together we can realize we're not alone in this, and learn from each other.

In the comments, please answer any (or both) of the questions below:

1. How are you struggling with getting your kids to talk to you?

2. And more importantly--what are some ways that are working in coaching your kids to have face-to-face communication?

Thanks for sharing your voice!


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Showing 11 comments
  • Liz Simmonds

    We were floored last week with a difficult conversation our 14yo Freshman daughter took on all by herself.
    We’d had several passing discussions about how differently the other first year Spanish teacher teaches. Her friends with that teacher are teaching my girl songs & dances they have been taught to remember vocabulary and verb tenses. We remarked that they would likely help her because she is an active learner rather than an auditory learner.
    All on her own, she made an appointment with her guidance counselor and went in to ask to transfer to the other teacher next semester. The counselor saw my husband at a meeting the next day and said The Girl articulated her point well and lobbied for the change of instructor better than she’s seen a student do in a very long time. The Girl said she was confidant in requesting the change because it wasn’t that she was failing or just didn’t like her teacher (she has a A), but that it was likely a better long term educational move.
    She knew she was advocating for herself and wants to achieve in school which gave her courage. She also knew from past experience that if she wasn’t willing to have the conversation that we wouldn’t do it for her. (She had an 8th grade teacher who she wouldn’t talk to about some technology issues. We told her that her education was primarily her responsibility and that she had to take initiative. If it didn’t bother her enough to have a difficult conversation, then we weren’t going to do it for her–which was REALLY hard as she failed quiz after quiz simply because she didn’t know how to work an iPad. But it paid off a year later!)
    It was hard to let her fail. It was heartbreaking to not solve her problems. Now, I’m so grateful we held out.
    Giving her the vocabulary to articulate a valid proposal was key in her success last week. Also giving her encouragement to advocate for herself. She was proud of her initiative–rightly so. And knew that we would only step in if she had made the first few on her own.
    Now if we can just get her to take some initiative to learn the names of the people in her running group…baby steps!

    • Tony Myles

      This is such a cool statement, Liz: “She knew she was advocating for herself and wants to achieve in school which gave her courage.”

      Something tells me this is the key for kids taking that step. Likewise, I’d like to know more about how you intentionally gave her the vocabulary to articulate a valid proposal. What did that actually/tangibly look like as you brought her into it in your home to the point where she could do it outside your home?

      • Liz

        We’re nerdy and in our conversations about how her friends were learning songs and dances, we talked about differing learning styles. We compared the different styles and talked about who in our family was which in what subjects. We talked about how cool it would be if she could switch classes, but that the school wouldn’t do it ‘just because’ added with the fact she has an A already. I thought we were still dreaming about the possibility and she came home saying she’s already met with the counselor!

  • Melissa Rau

    I guess this hasn’t been that much of a struggle with our family. They have their “touchscreen time,” but that time is NEVER during meal time. And our family is lucky that we have dinner together every night (well, 9 out of 10 nights, anyway)—depsite the fact that we have a 14 yr-old, a 10 yr-old, and an 8 yr-old. I guess one of the primary ways we coach our children is by engaging them in meaningful conversation at dinner time. We try to protect dinner as much as we can. When the eldest is at a rehearsal or something, preventing her from being home, it is fun to watch the younger two fill that space.

    • Tony Myles

      That’s such a cool anchor, Melissa. That was advice that was given to us early on in marriage – try to have at least one meal together every day as a family… more if you can. The irony is sometimes when my kids want to talk, *I’m* the one saying, “Hang on, let me finish this text.” 🙂

  • John Mulholland

    When our kids were younger, Anne and I went through a parenting class called, “Growing Kids God’s Way.” One of the chapters dealt with this topic, things like teaching kids to:

    -look at adults when they speak with you
    -not letting them get away with (even at the youngest of ages) hiding behind parents. We didn’t care how “shy” our kids were, they were not allowed to hide.
    -shaking hands in an introduction…

    and a great many other similar things.

    We think that the “kid’s table” at events is bogus and demeaning.
    We think that kids have a valid perspective to add to the conversation.
    We think that Christians ought to know how to defend their faith and why they believe what they do.

    Also, we have tried hard to engage our kids consistently in conversation at home. We have tried to demonstrate to our kids that we are “safe” to talk with, not just by telling them, but by loving them through things that are difficult to discuss.

    We’ve done none of these things because we are perfect, but because it’s what we’ve felt God lead us to do.

    • Tony Myles

      Appreciate this, John. I sense that material covers what was “common sense” in previous generations, but may not be as intuitive for this one. Then again, the “kids table” and the idea that kids are best “seen but not heard” also came from previous generations. I wonder what our kids will be inclined toward as parents as they invest into their kids.

  • Kristin Kopp

    I have little ones (5 & 7) so we are still just introducing adult conversation. However, I work in a private school and will say that by High School I notice a HUGE difference in students’ abilities to engage in conversation. It really makes an impact on how responsible, successful, etc. I deem that student to be in those initial conversations. I’m not saying it’s always a true reflection of the student’s abilities but it is a factor for certain. If I were a college admissions office or a potential employer it would be of high importance to me.

    • Tony Myles

      What a sobering catch, Kristin. I know I didn’t find my “voice” until I graduated high school, and I do think it limited some of my options. Do you find that the administration at your school tries to help students see this or is it more of something that’s too hard for them to get their arms around?

  • Darren Sutton

    We also have the ‘no screens during dinner’ expectation, Melissa. No phones at the table – no television unless we’re all ‘living rooming’ it together. When our kids were younger, we banned video games from the house — not because they were violent…because they didn’t foster ‘togetherness’. As they grew older and we got our first ‘system’, we would only allow games that all the kids could play at the same time. They learned to be together, even when they were screen-staring. When they got their first laptops, we noticed a ‘checking-out-of-the-family’ even though they were in the same room…so we limited screen time and social media to a certain window of time during the day. Now…they self manage all those time limits. We rarely have to say ‘get off the phone, no more games, blah blah blah’. Mostly, we’re saying ‘stop arguing’…which – in all honesty – should be considered a triumph. They’re communicating!!

    But I truly believe the best way to help our kids have face-time with others is to have face-time with them. Katie, my wife, is a ‘pontificator’ (I mean that in the most positive sense!!) Where some kids might check out when ‘mom goes on a rant’ (also…super positive, folks!! :), it might be easy for the kids to check out. But we’ve always encouraged their participation by asking their opinions, challenging their assertions, and generally creating a ‘culture of conversation’ at home. Everyone shares a bedroom, so their is no ‘squirreling off’ somewhere in the house. We’re ‘forced’ to talk to one another — which is good, because we like talking to each other. (And no, I’m not sure which came first – the chicken or the egg.) But it does’t matter to me if we like talking to each other because we orchestrated that way – or if we orchestrated that way so we would like talking to each other. I’m just glad it happens.

    And because my wife is the brains in this bunch, she has taught our kids to think well and speak well – so we often get similar feedback that you mentioned, Tony and Liz — our kids are so articulate, polite, wonderful, — all things I’m sure were never said about me when I was their age!! 🙂

    OK….this feels rambly….probably because it’s 2 AM. Maybe I need to limit my own screen time. If only I could stop those ‘conversations in my head’ from keeping me up at night!! 🙂

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