By: Ali Kaufman Founder & CEO, Space of Mind Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers
It’s still early in the school year and students who forged new friendships are also about at the point where comfort levels can become confusing. New friendships often form faster with technology’s help, leaving some children and teens to call a new friend their ‘best friend’ more quickly than a typical best friendship would develop. This chasm creates a false sense of security, can contribute to ‘jokes’ not landing as jokes and is confusing when there is a presumption of intimacy on a very public stage. It’s still hard for adults in general to relate to all the different levels of confusion a kid feels in the digital age.
I remember when I first crossed over: I was working in the corporate technology world, sharing an office with my co-worker. At the same time as he and I were on a group conference call together, we were on mute talking with each other out loud, yet also instant messaging one another silently about what we didn’t want overhead. We had the epiphany at the same time and got a good laugh when we realized soon enough that a fourth method of communication was involved when I actually passed him a note over the partition of our desks.
This was in 2001, before cell phones were smartphones, when the scrolling news bar at the bottom of the screen was new and not yet the norm. Texting was cutting edge and not at all mainstream. Before that, as kids our biggest social communication worry was that someone would pass a S.L.A.M. Book around the high school hallways or a teacher confiscated a handwritten (and micro-folded) note from a friend.
Communications were fleeting when we were kids. Foot-in-Mouth Disease wasn’t a fatal condition because less was in writing, more social expressions were factored in and trust was built over time and not technology. Today, a student’s misplaced joke to a presumed friend can result in devastating social and emotional pain. Because kids also have less face-to-face time (which isn’t the same as FaceTime calling), they are not learning to read their audience.
Social cues are imperative to understanding, but as eye contact withers away and punctuation is ignored in our shortened messages, we are now decoding one another through emojis and assumptions. For us adults, who are known as digital migrants, having adjusted to a life infused with technology as we leave behind our unplugged past, we developed an ability to read faces and inferences growing up. For kids today, known as digital natives for being born into a wired world, relationships escalate quickly, often built upon a house of cards designed that is no match for the building blocks of real world experiences that childhood used to provide.
As we watch our leaders trade tweeted insults and name-call their way through the world, our kids are watching, too. Educators and parents must be ready to help them resolve the conflicts that may occur with their tweets, texts, snapchats, messages and posts. We are the ones inspiring them to seek truth in the world, portray themselves honestly and without regard for what their life ‘looks like’ and to, most importantly, treat others with kindness, patience and the understanding that trust builds relationships over time. Learning to resolve communication conflicts is part of life today; teaching those skills should be a vital part of every classroom and living room. Of course, it requires us to put our phones down.