“Teens are constantly texting or on social networks and don’t value human interaction anymore.”
I have heard this and similar statements numerous times in the past few weeks from adults. Many of them are angry and down-right mad when they make these statements to me. Although there is value to their frustration, (13-17 year olds exchange 3,417 texts a month on average according to a report by Nielson), I think we need to look a little deeper and understand what is going on from a teens perspective.
“If I need a quick response I will call the person and text if it is something short like can I get a ride to the football game. I post on Facebook to inform and update my friends and family on whats going on and if I need to “vent” or “go on a rant” I head to twitter. Small talk with my friends is definitely a text, but if we want to have a deeper conversation then we call, Skype or talk face-to-face. If I am working on the computer, I will IM with my friends instead of text. And if I am not real close to the person I will always text them over call them. Oh and email, that is only for school and sharing documents.”
Did you get all that? What teens are saying is they use different forms of communication depending on the content and who they are communicating with. Where adults might question the redundancy of a teen needing to text, tweet and post to Facebook all with in a 2 minute time frame, teens don’t see it that way. They see it as communicating different things to different groups of people. So there seems to be some thought put into this madness.
When I was a teen I only had the options of calling someone on the phone, talking to them face-to-face or sending them a letter. I personally did not like talking on the phone and still don’t. Even to this day I get anxiety over calling to order a pizza. I wish I had other communication options while I was growing up and I can see how youth who may be more shy or timid can benefit from being able to text or IM their peers.
But back to the statements about teens not valuing human contact. This is one of the biggest myths I am seeing regarding teens right now. It simply is not true. When I was talking to teens about this topic, almost all of them said that they prefer face-to-face interaction over any other form of communication. They did not even hesitate or think twice to say it. One teen even commented that he enjoyed human interaction “because you could see the other persons emotions and expressions.” And this made him happy.
This is backed up by a recent study from Common Sense Media titled, “Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives.” They asked teens about their favorite way to communicate and found that 49% of teens favored “In Person”, followed by 33% “Texting”, 7% “Social Networks”, 4% “By Phone” and 1% “Twitter.”
This is Great News! Teens do in fact desire human interaction. In fact I dare to say they Crave human interaction.
What does this mean?
- First of all, look at any form of communication coming from your teen to you as a positive thing.
- Set up times to do things as a family. Eat dinner together, go on a hike, watch a TV show or Movie together. Set up rules during these family times so no one uses technology or is distracted.
- Your teen might not want you to show that you care about them in front of their friends. Nothing is as embarrassing to a teen as a mom yelling, “I Love You Honey,” as they drop you off at school. But a quick text saying you appreciate them, are proud of them or can’t wait to hang out with them is a great way to use the various forms of communication to your advantage.
- Put your own phone down, get off the computer, step away from the TV and just be around your teen. Look them in the eye and show them you are listening to them.
For Youth Workers:
- Show you value teens by making space for face-to-face conversations with them.
- Create opportunities for teens to be in community with each other. Create small clubs and groups around common interests.
- Make your time with them so much fun that they will not want to stop every five seconds to update their status on Facebook. Teens want to be in the here and now.