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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

Attention Teens: Try Resting Your Thumbs

23 comments | January 22nd, 2013

(By Mir)


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)

23 comments

  • Nelson's Mama

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    Yes, my girl got caught last week passing a note.

    Yes, I like you. :)

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  • meghann @ midgetinvasion

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    I remember being glued to our house phone. There were even times I would sit on the phone and watch tv, while my best friend sat and watched the same thing on her end. We wouldn’t even talk, except to maybe mention something about the show occasionally. Once we even fell asleep. (My mom was THRILLED about that one, as she’d been trying to call me during that time. Whoopsie!)

    Last year I waxed nostalgic about all the cool note folding we did in junior high and high school. I pulled out some paper to see if I could remember how to do it. (I was able to get my mojo back, once I closed my eyes. Muscle memory for the win!) I showed my 10 year old, explaining that HOW the note was folded sometimes was just as important as what was actually in the note. She thought it was really cool, and folds notes now too. Hey, maybe we could bring that back!

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  • Brenda

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    I remember writing notes sometimes in high school, folding them up into little triangles, and handing them off between class or at lunch. I wasn’t big on the phone, because while I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my friends, I wasn’t so good at the incessant chatter about everything and anything. This makes me think of all the signed yearbook pages I have, where we’d hand it to a friend, and they’d sometimes cover an entire page before they handed it back.

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    I miss the note writing so I force my friends and my husband and kids to indulge my refusal to leave the early 80′s. I write notes to my girls, sometimes left in their lunch. I found these neat little mailboxes at Target for $1 last Valentine’s Day. When there’s something requiring a little more discussion and a few more words than Have a Good Day!, I use the mailboxes. I write letters to friends who live locally just because WHY NOT.

    As for note writing/passing in school, my husband and I have given detailed accounts of the trouble we’ve gotten into for passing notes in class. We’ve told our kids about the “art” of note passing in the hall, the trust one must have in his/her fellow classmates to get that note safely where it belongs, never opened, even if it passes five palms. Sometimes it was more thrilling to assist in the note passing as opposed to knowing what the note said. Just for kicks, I passed my coworker a cubicle over a perfectly folded triangle of paper. Inside it read, “Hey.” She is still laughing, but she did at least write back, “Sup? Wanna get some Funyons?”

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    A couple of friends and I shared a “note”book. We plastered the front of a spiral notebook with stickers and passed it between classes. So much less chance of getting caught that we even passed it openly during classes sometimes. I have at least one of them in a box with old yearbooks and things like the soda wrappers that That Guy had just thrown away. Reading it would probably be painful.

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    • Jen

      Posted on January 22, 2013

      YES! We did that too! There were maybe 5 or 6 of us who wrote in a notebook (or really, multiple notebooks because we filled them up pretty fast) that was passed among all of us for a couple of years in HS. I know one of my friends still has one… I also stumbled across an entire Caboodle (ha! how early ’90s is that?!) filled with HS notes, all still folded, at my parents’ house. I brought it to a girls weekend with some of my HS pals last year and we had a blast reading them all again (and trying to figure out what on earth we’d been talking about!) :)

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  • Michelle

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    I teach high school, and occasionally find kids passing notes. When they choose to do it (for whatever nostalgic reason) they are TERRIBLE at it. Not subtle at all. But I don’t read them aloud because I was a prolific note writer myself, and the kids who are doing it by hand are usually my favorites anyway. (What? I mean, I don’t have favorites…)

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    • Mir

      Posted on January 22, 2013

      Haaaaaaaaaaa… to all of this….

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    • Nelson's Mama

      Posted on January 22, 2013

      I’m friends on FB with my favorite high school teacher. She intercepted a JUICY triangle note on it’s way to my best friend and though the entire class was loudly urging her to read it aloud, she refused! Said that the most humiliating thing of her high school career was having HER passed note read aloud to the class… I never passed a note in biology again ;)

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  • el-e-e

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    What a fun memory! :) Thanks, Mir!

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  • Tenessa

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    I was digging through my attic looking for something to prove I’d graduated high school so I could officially open my home school when I came across a box of notes. The box was shoebox sized and was stuffed full of artfully folded notes. I opened a few. They were dated, and the author and recipient were clear. But here’s the thing. They were in code. My friends and I kept a rotating series of codes we would use to write our notes. That way, no one could understand what we were saying without the cypher! I, uh, didn’t keep the cyphers… So now I have a box full of notes written by 12, 13, and 14 year old me and my friends and no way of knowing what inane thing was MOST CERTAINLY THE MOST IMPORTANT!

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  • Robin

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    Ah, the art of note writing. There was excitement and mystery and adventure! The complications of note folding, which was almost an art form in itself. Can I just say that L.Y.L.A.S. was around LONG before LOL or OMG or BRB?

    Last year I wrote my (then) 9 year old niece a few letters. I thought she might get a kick out of receiving her own mail (and I really, really miss letter writing..and receiving. I still get excited to get a letter) and she did, at first. My brother said she thought it was cool but asked if I didn’t know people EMAILED now. Alas, we only exchanged a few letters before she grew bored with it.

    The truth is, for me anyway, emailing and texting is fine. But there’s still nothing like getting a letter from someone..and the anticipation of what that letter will hold.

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  • dad

    Posted on January 22, 2013

    Your poor parents!

    The next great technological advance should have all communication devices have a built in time delay mechanism to provide the sender with an opportunity to reconsider what they just said. The extra time will be more than offset by the hours of embarrassment and apologies required do to unintended consequences.
    It’s impossible to deny what you have written.

    I like you.

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  • Corey

    Posted on January 23, 2013

    Check mark next to “Yes” :)

    But I’d really like to ~gasp~ print this instead of Liking (I already “like” like it; I don’t need to FB like it, too), and I don’t do any of those other socially things. But I can’t find a “Print” button. Guess I’ll copy and paste instead of writing it over in my neatest handwriting, though.

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  • Amy

    Posted on January 23, 2013

    I’m a middle school teacher. There is still a bit of note-passing, but nothing like when I was that age. Then again, I’m in a tiny school where the kids are in constant contact anyway because they are usually all in the same physical space, so that helps. They just open their big mouths and say whatever they feel like!

    Nelson’s Mama, I will never ever read a note aloud either, for the same reason. My 7th grade science teacher will never be forgotten for how terribly he embarrassed me!

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  • JMH

    Posted on January 24, 2013

    When I was in high school, I was good friends with a boy. When my boyfriend (of the time) dumped me, my guy friend passed me a note in Biology class. It was a 2 page “note” about how my boyfriend made a mistake and he went on to tell me all of the qualities he appreciated in me. It was AWESOME and I kept it for YEARS. Every time I had a bad day, or a fight with a friend or significant other, I would pull out that note and read it. It always made me feel better. (It also still smelled like his Polo cologne…even 10 years later!) I will always be thankful for that note. I was really bummed when I realized it got lost somewhere along the way. Notes are the best :)

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on January 24, 2013

    I do love that they gave you time to think, and didn’t come with poorly thought-out, instantaneous, angry responses or naughty pictures.

    Of course, my biggest notes memory is the VERY porno ones (think “Penthouse”) we used to write in disguised handwriting, leave in an old desk in the art room, then check a few days laer for a reply. There were some pretty memorable replies in there. Thank GOODNESS those things are NOT preserved forever on the internet!!

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