I’ve been giving all my friends pop quizzes on technology issues since EP editor Elisabeth Wilkins wrote about the texting habits of teens and how it might have a long term affect on a teen’s ability to communicate and socialize.
I stuck a recent cover of The New Yorker magazine under their noses and asked what they could decipher in the cartoon that depicted a child teaching a roomful of gray haired grannies and middle-aged parents the commonly used abbreviations of texting and online communication.
My friends flunked and my husband fared no better. What I did find out is the parents of tweens I know are already afraid of technology because they don’t understand it or see a practical application for it.
One friend with a ninth grader suggested that instead of banning social networking sites and text messaging, parents should be signing on instead of sheltering their teens from using it. She believes ignorant dismissal of technology also takes away another point of connection — ironically, a very personal connection — to her teenager.
OMGosh, I may not know all the texting abbreviations and I may not be as handy with my thumbs as teens are, but it doesn’t take much of a leap for me to see that ILY is pretty much the same as XOXO no matter how my kid gets that message.
Though I’ve been told email is obsolete for older teens who rely on social networking sites to communicate, tweens find email to be an exciting first step with technology. Our school introduces email accounts and safety in fourth grade. Email gives me another place to connect with my daughter by doing something with her that she enjoys.
I also signed up for Facebook and I am getting an eyeful! Kids post everything on Facebook without reservation and with the very normal but immature assumption that these will not come back to haunt them. Yet, one college niece, soon to be a full-fledged teacher, had warnings from her professors to not open an account and to work hard to keep her online reputation stellar so that no students or parents could find anything on the web that would detract from her command of a classroom.
And she listened. Despite the peer pressure to be on social networking sites, she knew that the bigger responsibility of starting her career and being a good role model to students was worth foregoing this technology. She did not isolate herself from all technology, but embraced texting and computer skills to allow her to stay one step ahead of the students she will influence.
The benchmark for how much technology is too much is established in the traditional way. An article on building moral intelligence discusses how character development gets its start at home, and concludes that our children use technology with the same moral code instilled in them by their parents and family.
Elisabeth’s concern about social skills doesn’t worry me. From what I can see, my technology-using nieces and nephews are incredible conversationalists. In person and online, they are fun and funny socially capable young adults. Somehow they manage to balance a large amount of athletic and computer activity and stay healthy emotionally and physically. They are more outgoing and active than I ever was as a teen and unlike me, instead of sitting on a phone indoors — connected to the wall by a spaghetti cord — the teens in my extended family are out there going, doing, being. They volunteer, they get involved, they invite friends, they are a large crowd and they take a lot of pictures, giving me a glimpse into what they are up to!
I credit the balancing act to the examples they have in their lives.
Grandma never turns down a reason to throw a party. Aunt Jane works, volunteers in school and makes time to man the booth at the community fair. Big brothers willingly scoop up the younger cousins and take them on fishing trips. None would miss a family birthday celebration. And every one of them will proclaim how much fun they are having and how much they love family right there, out loud, online.
About Annita Wozniak
Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com