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What's New Under the Sun? Kids (and Adults) and Social Media

Does today’s teens use of technology disprove the adage: “There is nothing new under the sun?” Perhaps the issues surrounding social media have existed for ages ...

Your heart pounds. Your hands tremble. You hide in the basement where there is more privacy, even though you suspect your mom is listening down the clothes-chute.

Your mind is racing with what you need to say to get to the object of your crush. How can you even think about how you’ll word the invitation?

You pick up the receiver, place it behind your ear, then dial. It seems an eternity until each number rotates back to its spot, making way for the next turn. All the while, your head is spinning with words.

“Hello?”

All your perfectly articulated words have turned to mush.

“Uh, helllloo? Is-uh- I mean, Mrs. Smith? I would like to speak at—to—your daughter Cindy. Is she—er-available?”

Fortunately, the voice on the other line is kind. Mrs., not Mr. Smith. Bonus! You feel more like a man than you ever have. Sweat stains and all, you’re still standing after the ordeal.

Now all you have to do is press on and have the courage to actually ask Cindy to the homecoming dance. Then, you would really be a true man. If only you hadn’t just peed your pants.

What’s missing from this scenario?

Your teenager.

As a parent of teenagers, I’ve done my share of thinking about the dating realm. I am not a parent who takes a firm stand on “to date or not to date,” though I do want my kids to make wise, healthy choices (as I’ve encouraged them to do in every area of their lives).

I am concerned about how dating communication has changed in the
day of cell phones or texting.

Maybe it is a good thing that my son will never have to experience sweaty palms as he waits for each number on a rotary dial to swing forward and back, trying to perfect his words. Or is it? 

He’s known the young woman he’s dating since she was a very little girl. He’s comfortable calling her or texting her. Why be nervous? The phone is merely an extension of himself. Why should he have to sweat just thinking about the asking?

Our kids will likely never know what it is to get past the nervousness to pick up the phone, thinking of what to say if the other person’s mom or dad answers first, since the option exists to dial one’s personal phone. Where is the risk there? Why even call when a text is just as good? And if she rejects you, oh well, you didn’t have to put yourself out there too far.

There is something to be said about the courage and character-building experience of asking THROUGH a parent.

I also wonder about general phone etiquette. Have we taught our kids how to speak to adults on the phone? How to answer a phone politely and greet the person before delving into our purpose? Who even has a home phone anymore to gain such practice? When we had a home phone, my daughter never wanted to answer it, because she would have to talk to an adult she might not know.

These days, we call or text whomever we need from our personal phones and get right to the point. Isn’t that the most efficient method?

I know several teenagers who do not want to talk to adults on the phone or in stores. Somehow, they have not had the experience or practice of doing so. Where will this lead them as adults?

For several months, a series on teens and social media has been rattling around in my brain. To pitch it to my editor, I called her, right? No. I texted. She liked the idea. (Both of the series and of my texting her, I’m sure; it often saves time.)

Technology and social media are changing not only the way people communicate, but the ways we relate to each other. Are they also affecting social etiquette in general?

If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. This week, a friend and I were talking about the fact that our octogenarian parents rarely start a phone conversation with small talk. (This strikes me as strange since I grew up with a mother whom I swore was secretly Emily Post.) Though our parents have excellent social etiquette face to face, their lack of suitable phone personality likely goes back to the days of party lines and operators. Phones were for terse communication, and you didn’t monkey around. No “small talk” when you get on the line; just say it. You couldn’t have long conversations, because the neighbor might need to use the line (or be listening). My friend laughed that they’d lost the need for short conversations, but the terseness often remains.

What is customary and what is current practice may change over time, but certain things do not: the desire to communicate, to be accepted, to be a part of a group that has things in common.

Social media and technology have, in many ways, made that goal easier. With that ease, however, certain dangers have arisen.

Let me be clear: I am not one of those people who freaks out about the “dangers” of social media. In fact, I appreciate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and (most of all) Patch as great ways to stay connected. 

But we have to be aware of issues that teens and adults are sure to confront. We’ll either be swept into them or stand against them, and this is definitely not a new concept.

The world has always been a place filled with choices. Possibilities. Temptations. Just as a stone can be used as an anchor or a weapon, so it is with modern-day tools. How we use something is our choice.

It is also our teens’. Because many teens (and adults) lack the wisdom and life-experience to “begin with the end in mind,” it is up to parents and mentors to help them make wise choices regarding social media. What we teach, the parameters we put in place, both in terms of established rules and lived-out examples, will set the stage for how positively they will use technology and social media.

In this series, we’ll talk about issues regarding social media, hear some stories from teens who have faced difficulties as a result of their online choices, and even give parents a text-speak quiz, just in case you’ve ever tried to check your kids’ text only to realize you don’t speak the language! Join us and be a part of the discussion as we dive into these issues beginning next week. (TTYS!)

For now, let me leave you with this thought: Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. While I’m not crazy about the theme that most of life is “meaningless” (you live, you die, so what’s the point?), I love the greater moral: We go through seasons in life, each with its own purpose for learning and growth. While what we experience is new to us, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Even the Internet? We shall see.

Anne Williams October 08, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Perfect timing for this series, you must have been reading my mind! This has been a major topic lately in our household of 3 teenagers. My major stance is something you touched on which is they have a choice in the way they use social media, mainly the fact that the world does not need to know every move you make via facebook, twitter, instagram etc. Enjoy the people you are with instead of posting everything you do for everyone else to view and comment on. If you put yourself out there be prepared for the good and the bad comments and if you don't like it then don't post.
Donna J. Noble October 09, 2012 at 03:45 AM
True. I hope to touch on these issues and more. Stay part of the conversation! I value your input. You are one of our Patch "Growth Chart" "experts" as a parent of teens!

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