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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

TTYL, BFF

21 comments | August 13th, 2012

(by Mir from WouldaShoulda)

As a child—and perhaps even more so, as a teenager—I was jealous of my friends who lived in neighborhoods where they could walk to other friends' houses. We lived kind of out in the sticks, and if I was to hang out in proximity to another kid my own age, I would need a ride. And it's not that I never got to go to other people's houses, but it wasn't nearly as frequent as I wished. Basically I wanted to be able to access my friends any time I felt like it, a.k.a., always.

The result of this sad state of affairs was twofold: First, during school (and classes where talking was prohibited, or the desired friends were in different classes) I wrote notes. Lots and lots of notes. The beauty of a note was that if you did it right, it looked like you were hard at work on whatever you were supposed to be doing, and then you could either chuck it at your intended recipient when the teacher's back was turned (if she was in your class) or pass it off in the hallway in passing (if she wasn't). The horror of notes, of course, was that someone else could get ahold of them. Woe betide the sloppy note-deliverer who had her missive snagged by the teacher… or—worse!—a note about the crush-of-the-day intercepted by either the boy in question or a mean girl who would make sure you wished you'd never existed, much less admitted who you liked.

The second result, of course, was that once I got home from a day at school with my friends, I immediately got on the phone. This drove my mother crazy until the advent of this new-fangled thing called Call Waiting, at which point I was free to stay on the line as long as I liked, provided I answered the beep when it came and surrendered the handset accordingly. I spent years of my teenagerhood whining and wheedling for a phone in my room—why, several of the popular girls had not just a phone right in their rooms, but their own, separate phone lines—and it never happened. I think I was in my last year of high school when we finally got a cordless phone, which at least allowed me to retreat into my room with it temporarily.

In those late-middle-school and early-high-school years, being out of immediately communication with my friends felt like a fate worse than death.

Back then I never could've imagined that the day would come when every teenager would appear to have arms that come to an end at a permanent junction between thumbs and smartphone. "We didn't have texting when we were your age, and WE SURVIVED!" we try to tell today's teens, like this is something utterly new. It isn't, of course. We had notes, they have texts and emails. We used to talk on the phone because that was the most immediate communication available to us when we were apart; today's teens find texting faster and easier, and if they must got a different route, email and Facebook suffice. Somehow it feels more dangerous to us adults, jaded by age as we are, and because "back in our day" it never would've occurred to us to send naked pictures to our boyfriends (mostly because the logistics of doing so were much more complicated, I'm sure).

But is it? Or is this just the same separate-from-the-parents, cleave-to-the-peers teenage routine that has been going on for years and years, albeit now much more technology-assisted?

I read stories about cyber-bullying, about pictures and videos and emails intended for one set of eyes gone viral, and I cringe for those kids and their not-yet-fully-formed brains and poor decision making skills. At the same time, I have a vague memory of a year-long series of "comics" a friend and I drew for each other (via notes, natch) in which the central theme was the violent murder of several teachers and classmates we disdained. Those notes never fell into the wrong hands, nor would we have done anything untoward in real life, but by today's standards, post-Columbine, I can see where our little "joke" was a terrible idea that could've landed us in a world of trouble. Had you told me that at the time, though, I probably would've just drawn you into the cartoon… and then made sure you were eaten by a surprise shark.

We let out our collective angst and we bonded over the unfairness of that impossible limbo between childhood and adulthood. We spent hours on the phone, wrote reams of nonsense to one another, and often spent our actual time in one another's company doing nothing much at all.

Today's teens text each other until their thumbs are calloused, and post pictures of each other making duckfaces, and we parents worry incessantly because they don't seem to know how to talk to each other. Every teen I know seems to hate talking on the phone. None of them know how to write a letter, save for whatever form letter they're forced to practice in English class. Even when they're in person together, everyone's on their phones. It seems like they're more susceptible to the media "shoulds" than we were, maybe, because they're immersed in the one-sided online world (buy this, do this, look like this) for so many hours every day. I worry how it changes things like the formation of girls' self esteem.

Are things different now, or is this the same as it ever was, just with Internet added in? Is my nagging feeling that today's teens aren't forging the same sorts of friendships and connections we once had a valid concern or just me being old and out of touch?

(Get More Mir Here)

 

21 comments

  • Diane

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    Text, e-mail and Facebook never allow you the ability to read body language, which is something like 90% of face to face communication. It’s a vicious circle: the more you text, the more uncomfortable you are in face to face settings, the more you want to text instead, etc. It’s still the cleave-to-the-peers routine, but with much less opportunity for learning any people skills at all.

    On the other hand, it makes taking away the ability to text or e-mail an extremely effective parental disciple tool.

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  • victoria

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I have a 16 year old female for whom I have yet (and don’t intend to) to get a cell phone. Just like I’ve filled her room with books rather than a TV set. She has friends with both these items, but I would rather she bike over to a friend’s house (free exercise) to chat face to face. I forget which hormone…but it seems that there is a hormonal release from face to face interaction which cannot be had over the cell phone.
    So, I suspect that we cannot change the way technology is a large part of our kids’ lives, but maybe we can “put on the brakes“ while they are at home.

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    • Arnebya

      Posted on August 14, 2012

      Oh, Victoria. If I were near you, I’d hug you. My girls are 11 and 9 and continue to lobby for the bedroom tv. We continue to evidently make their childhood a living hell by declining (because, of course, “everyone else” has one).

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      • victoria

        Posted on August 14, 2012

        Hi Arnebya :) I’m in Québec, so you might not be near me ;) Since “all“ the friends of our daughters have bedroom tv sets, it just adds a nice extra reason to go visit. (daughter’s out of the house and friend gets a visit- win win!)
        Keep up the good fight!

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      • JMH

        Posted on August 16, 2012

        I refuse to put a TV in my kids’ bedrooms as well. When they whine, I tell them they can have a TV in their bedroom..when they move out :) My husband and I don’t have a TV in our bedroom either

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  • Arnebya

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I don’t think you’re out of touch at all, Mir (or old for that matter!). I will say this though: I think kids are both more and less connected (I know, I know. Gimme a minute to splain). They are more connected to each other because they are more easily accessible with the texting and the Facebooking and the Twittering. Yet, they are less connected in that they would rather communicate via text, et al even when in the same room with the person to who they’re texting. Yes, we had house phones and notes and there’s still IM and email. The technology used today is just the evolution of all the things we had. However, I do lament the lack of social graces that kids seem to have as technology continues to increase their ability to stay in touch but decreases their ability to SPEAK.

    While I want to yell at the kids on my lawn with their earbuds and downcast eyes on tiny screens, I don’t want to stop advancement of technology and communication. Instead, I’d like these things to continue, but for there to be a continuation of necessary skills such as eye contact, holding a conversation in person, punctuation and fully spelled out words, and maybe, just maybe, knowing that life will continue should your phone die and no one knows that you’re safe at home.

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  • mamalang

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I think it depends on the kids. My older two have cell phones and they text and facebook and watch youtube videos and on and on. But they do it both together with each other (and their little brother) and alone. And they both have groups of friends that they spend time with, doing the things we did as teenager, movies, the mall, sitting on a trampoline, etc. The difference I see is that the parents of these kids are all willing to take our kids to one another’s house if necessary, and take the time to know one another so we feel comfortable letting out kids hang out. I think being military kids helps with this as well. They learn early on that the world is not a pretty, cotton candy coated world. They learn to use technology before they talk sometimes, as it’s the only way to communicate with your parent that is overseas. It’s also meant that friends aren’t “lost” when they move away. My daughter still regularly chats with friends that haven’t live nearby in years. When those friends happen to move back, they already have a net to help them. But ultimately, it’s our responsibility as adults to show them how “real life” can be way more fun than just the internet or texting.

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  • karen

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    Well, I think you’re on to something,Mir. I do think something is lost in the nature of friendship when electronics are a means to the end. And I think it depends on the kids, too. As a hearing impaired person, I can tell you that I thank the powers that be -every single day – for texting, as it is a very important means of communication for folks like me. And… I think I’m in touch with my kids more when they are out and about than my mother ever could be when I was young. I mean… I left the house to do things with friends and she didn’t really know of my whereabouts or hear from me again until dinner sometimes. If I start to worry about my kids, I just send a text and they usually get back to me pretty quickly, and all is good. I like it for that reason too.

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  • Rhonda

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I personally feel that the downside to texting/social media is that it allows people to be way more harsh than they would if they actually had to speak unpleasant words to another human’s face. Hit the send button on an angry diatribe, and you don’t have to see the reaction to your words. It takes real nerve to stand up to someone in person, but no balls at all to do it electronically. While it is a convenience, it lacks compassion and heart. True feelings cannot be communicated via :) or :(.

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  • Laurin

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I couldn’t agree more! “Back in the day,” I, too, spent hours on the phone each night after school and was an expert note passer.

    My daughter is 14 and a freshman in high school. She doesn’t talk on the phone AT ALL! When she is not with them, all of her communications with her friends are by text or on Facebook. Making plans to go to a movie with friends takes her like 30 minutes of back and forth texting. I think it’s crazy, because the planning could be resolved in a 2 minute conference call!

    My daughter almost recoils when the phone rings (and often lets calls go through to voicemail and then responds via text) because she prefers to communicate via text. And when she does answer the phone(usually under duress), she does so awkwardly. Because of this, my fear is that the glut of technology as communication is going to facilitate a generation of social morons who don’t know how to have a conversation–in person OR on the phone, which could have both personal and professional consequences in the future.

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  • Tenessa

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    Nothing is very permanent feeling when it’s digital even though the reality is that one you release something onto the internet, it really, is no longer yours to control, and it will remain there for someone to dig up at some time in the future.

    With that temporary feeling, comes temporary, easy friendships. Are we all truly “friends” with everyone on our friends list on FB? Can any teenager really know 2000 people? No. When you drop out of the internet radar, you cease to exist for most of these people. I guess this is when you find out who your real friends are: the people who make the effort to find some other way to get in touch with you.

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    My 11 y.o. son seems to have some good friends, but I’ve worried about his social life b/c he has no communication with them. I just told my husband that I think he needs social skills training! As far as I know none of the boys have email addresses yet, and certainly not cellphones or FB accounts. When they want to do things the moms still organize. I’m trying to get away from this but my son has no idea how to talk on the phone and the kid on the other end is just as awkward. They hang up (w/o a “goodbye”) and it is clear that no plans are certain. I end up having to call back myself to clarify it all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    I would argue that the internet is better than sitting in front of a TV and passively gobbling up what they serve you.

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  • Leslie

    Posted on August 14, 2012

    Go looking for the next new technology, and you might find your enthusiastic kids again… Don’t make ‘em talk on the phone, when they can skype with grandma instead. My kids and their cousins all seem to hate the phone, but do just fine when emulating Dick Tracy over the computer… (and my father literally danced a jig the first time he talked to his granddaughter 3000 miles away at college).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on August 15, 2012

    Coming at this from an English teacher’s point of view, I love that my kids can take a photo of their homework with their phones rather than sit there for five minutes taking it down in their books when they need to be hurrying to the next class. Having a decent access to the internet can also be helpful when we’re talking about kids needing to look information upo
    What I hate about them (and yes it’s easier to list than to talk in-depth about each and every one):
    - short attention spans
    - they rely on them to the point where they can barely think for themselves
    - “But Miss! NAME is having difficulty with Maths and I need to help them!”
    - “I wasn’t paying attention, I was playing Angry Birds”
    - Inability to spell with a decent degree of accuracy
    - Inability to write sustained pieces of communication, apparently asking for an entire A4 page in two hours is impossible for fifteen year olds to do anymore
    - “Ha ha, you don’t have *insert latest version of doohickey here*”

    I could go on longer, but there are two things about kids having mobile phones I despise above all else:

    1) They don’t respect them. None of my kids who do have a mobile, even an I-Phone, take care of them. We had one student throw her new I-Phone 4 off the second floor because it was the wrong colour. Her parents went out and bought her a new one by the weekend. This is sadly not uncommon.

    2) They don’t stop and think about the fact that what they put online will affect others, and I don’t just mean the students but the teachers, administrators, Building Service Operators… hell sometimes even their parents. They put demeaning photos up of their parents forgetting that some of them work together and their parents’ co-workers see these photos. There’s a craze that went through a few schools here called “sneaky hatting” where students stripped naked and held a hat over their privates and put the photos on facebook. Not to mention that they don’t think about how all this is permanent, and in ten or twenty years when they start applying for jobs it will be out there for people to see.

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  • Beth in IA

    Posted on August 15, 2012

    Personally, I have a 20-something and 2 teenagers. The two youngest still won’t answer the phone. The oldest didn’t either until she went away to college and now we can chat on the phone for an hour at a time. Friendships are evolving just the way technology is so I have a hard time separating one from the other. Did you ever spend 5 hours with your friends making and editing a Call Me Maybe music video? My kids have far more friends than I did because they have so many ways to stay in touch. I do wonder how deep these connections will prove to be, though.

    My parents tell me all the time that they were constantly worried about my generation when we were growing up and I need to chill out. I imagine that’s what their parents told them when I was a teen?

    On a professional note, I work for a crisis agency and we’ve just implemented an online “chatting” service in addition to our phone hotline exactly because of Mir’s observations. We have been overwhelmed by the response. We’re training new specialists as fast as we can because we don’t have the manpower right now to respond to every chat request. And here is very initial data:

    - Most common age of callers – over 35 y/o. Most common age of chatters – under 25 y/o.
    - Average length of a phone call – 20 minutes. Average length of a chat session – 1 hour.
    - Common refrain in chats: “This is the first time I’ve told someone this.”
    - Percentage of callers who are assessed with suicidal risk ~ 30%. Percentage of chatters who are assessed with suicidal risk – closer to 50%.

    This program is new so we are still doing a lot of work to interpret the numbers and understand what’s happening, but I think the entire staff has been surprised by the depth of issues that are revealed when the human interaction is only online. So perhaps that’s a positive aspect of technology … it does remove inhibitions but that can work in someone’s favor when they are reaching out for help. That makes me hopeful.

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    • the Iowa Expat

      Posted on August 15, 2012

      Beth, I’m really interested in your chatting service and would love to hear more.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on August 15, 2012

      God bless you for doing this. It’s the type of resource that is seriously lacking online. I’ve been going to some that are on a peer-to-peer basis, and it’s often crushing that there’s no one out there to help, except people in the same boat as I am. I hope you don’t burn out too soon doing this, it’s hard.

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  • Feel More Better

    Posted on August 15, 2012

    Beth and IA, thought you guys might be interested in this article on Do Something (a national org) and their creation of a text-driven crisis line.

    http://bit.ly/NtLR7s

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  • Andrea

    Posted on August 16, 2012

    I just this week tried to give some yard work to a senior in high school (he advertised he was saving for college so I suspect some brains are rattling around in his head) but getting him to actually SPEAK on the phone was painful-more than painful. He had absolutely capacity to speak on the phone to me, let alone try to do business with him. I tried to give him a chance and wouldn’t you know it, the kid never showed up, or called to cancel. Maybe he would have texted it it was an option.

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