Attention Teens: Try Resting Your Thumbs
It’s tempting to start out something like this with “KIDS TODAY!” and maybe even “GET OFF MY LAWN!” I’m going to try really hard not to do that, because the reality is, I think “kids today” are not so very different than kids of “yesterday” (pick your yesterday based on your age). What I think is different is the world. But kids, well, I think they’re more the same—across generations, across state and country lines—than they are different.
When I hear an adult complaining about teens glued to their cell phones, texting like their lives depend on it, I laugh. When I was a teenager, I also felt the need to be in constant contact with my friends. But without cell phones or email, the only option available to me at home was the house telephone. (Ours was wall-mounted in the kitchen, with a long cord so that you could move around. It had buttons, not a rotary dial, because it was very modern. Heh.) Unfortunately, the house telephone was supposed to be for everyone who lived in the house, which meant that I couldn’t spend every waking non-school hour on it, the way I wanted to. Oh, the humanity! My mother was forever chasing me off of the phone, much to my chagrin.
And at school, well, teachers never had to police kids covertly texting in class, no. Instead, we had to write notes to each other (on paper! with pencils!) and then risk life, limb, and public humiliation (because most teachers would simply read aloud intercepted notes) to get our missives to their intended recipients. Sometimes a note would fall into the wrong hands—and that could mean an enemy rather than a teacher—but that was a risk you took, because communication felt that important, and yet in-person conversations were either impossible (during class) or too difficult to navigate (like with a new romantic interest). On the other hand, we didn’t have to worry about, say, someone making copies of our notes and giving them to every kid in school. I mean, I suppose it was theoretically possible, but a lot more trouble than simply forwarding an email is, today.
But here’s the point I want to get to: I think we humans have a driving need to connect with one another. I think teens have always experienced this need as something keener and more urgent than we do as adults. (I don’t know if we mature and chill out, or if we lose some of the passion of our younger days; probably some of both, and a topic for another day.) So the teens themselves, thumbing away on their cell phones, are nothing new. What’s new is that there’s no delay between the writing down of the thought and the receipt of it by someone else.
When I was a teenager and I was doodling notes to give to my BFF or my current boyfriend, the whole thing took a lot longer. It took longer to write it all down than it would take to type on a phone. I had to take the time to fold the note up. And then I had to find the time and the opportunity to get that note to its intended recipient. If I’d said something I shouldn’t—whether it was wearing my heart on my sleeve or resorting to harsh words over some perceived slight—I had a lot longer to think about whether I REALLY, REALLY wanted those words to end up in the hands of the intended recipient. Part of growing up and finding our way is making mistakes, and if you know someone who never said something they regretted, I have a bridge to sell you. Whether you’re texting or writing with a quill and ink, mistakes can and will be made. I don’t even think all mistakes are bad.
The thing I wish I could get my teens, any teens, to do, though, is take a little bit of time when emotions are running high. Don’t text back right away. Don’t forward that email. Don’t feel like just because you CAN respond immediately, you HAVE to. There is something to be said for taking the time to sit with… whatever. Sure, maybe I was delayed in responses to things as a teen because I had to wait for my mom to get off the phone or I had to write the note, fold the note, deliver the note… but more than once I think that delay saved me from further pain. Time has a way of smoothing out a lot of things, you know?
I don’t want to do away with cell phones, or texting, or even the current culture of rapid feedback and socialization. I don’t think these things are inherently bad. I just wish there were more ways to encourage my kids to slow down and take more time to consider what they really need to say. There was a certain Zen in the classroom note, you know. You had whatever the words were, sure, but there were also drawings (bad drawings, if you were me) and the art of folding it up. It was all communication, it was just slower, and maybe a little safer, somehow.
Do kids even pass notes anymore? Am I crazy, thinking it made things a little less fraught? Check YES if you like me, and don’t let the teacher see you passing this back.
(more mir here)