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It would be hard to say whether teens communicate more digitally, such as texting or through social media, or by talking face-to-face. Judging from the noise I hear each day in the halls between classes, I would vote for face-to-face! I have heard concerns from many adults, however, that kids are losing their ability to communicate effectively because they spend so much time sending instant and text messages. There is research that suggests that teens use texting to avoid any kind of uncomfortable communication (See Teen Texting Soars; Will Social Skills Suffer?). How can parents help their children learn to communicate better?
First, families need to spend time together when they do not allow interruptions from their smartphones. We are all guilty of checking our email and text messages or even taking a call during dinnertime with our family. The message to the family is that whoever or whatever is on the phone is more important than time with them. I suggest that everyone agrees to put their phones on silent at least during dinnertime. Spend dinnertime practicing communication skills by talking to one another. Dinnertime should be sacred family time.
Second, purposefully teach communication skills, especially those that help resolve problems. I teach students who are having a disagreement to use “I feel” statements. They go like this: I feel [name the emotion] when [tell when it happens] because [explain why].
For example: “I feel angry when you take things from my locker without asking me first, because it seems like you don’t respect my property.” When students explain what is bothering them to their friends using “I feel” statements, it opens the door to a conversation that usually ends with the problem solved. Kids need to practice this technique, and it needs to be done face-to-face rather than through text messaging or emailing.
With these two simple tips, children can begin to build their communication skills which will help them not only now but also in the future. Much has been written about the importance of social skills to success in a career. Create a family time each day when all communication is face-to-face, and teach your children how to use “I feel” statements.
For more ideas about communication, read Improve Communication Skills With Practice Games.