By Jarred Boyd
In my first article on Social Networking, I gave biblical support for why I believe social networking is potentially too dangerous for those who aren’t working to bridle their tongues – namely, adolescents. The practice of wisdom and taking safety precautions is crucial when dealing with a “loaded weapon” (social networking). In “Part 2” of this article, I’ll be dealing with how social networking has severely damaged adolescents’ communication skills.
Youth today aren’t necessarily becoming more socially awkward; they’re becoming less polite, considerate, and especially less socially engaging face-to-face. There isn’t research directly supporting this theory, but my personal dealings with youth as well as support from many others whom interact with adolescents on a regular basis certainly confirm it. This is due to their constant electronic involvement that requires little to no social skill to perform.
The other day I walked into my local Buffalo Wild Wings, and scanned the restaurant for a place to sit. As I’m scanning the room, I notice that every single table in the dining area has at least one person with their phone out. This is the norm, too. Go to a restaurant these days, and you’ll notice that people spend just as much time looking down at their phones before their meal arrives, as they do in personal interaction with their company. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What an awesome example we set, as adults, for teenagers and kids, when we spend more time looking down at an electronic device than we do looking into the eyes of those whom we’re dining with. The saddest display of this reality is a family at the dinner table or in a restaurant who allow their kids to play video games, or even worse – have their headphones in, completely tuned out from reality! Nothing bothers me more, than seeing a family sit with each other and never be present with one another. It is truly a sad sight.
You see, here’s the problem – priority. What should our priority be – interaction with those whom we’re present with, or interaction with those whom we’re connecting with through a mobile device? Answer – those whom we’re present with! Communicating through Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging has taken rank over talking with people we’re in close contact with. This reality presents a major problem not only for our own communication skills, politeness, and consideration of others, but also for those whom we’re looking to set an example for.
Trying to talk with an adolescent in person is like trying to talk with your first crush – you’re looking for common ground, something that will strike their interest to keep them engaged – you’re searching for anything to keep the conversation going. Talking with an adolescent on the phone is like watching an old man stumble while trying to keep his feet and eventually crash – a very slow, awkward, painful while entertaining process. When you talk to adolescents it can often be frustrating, because you’re spending a lot of energy just to get words out of them. It often happens very slowly, it can be extremely awkward, and overall – it’s a painful process (in the sense that, about 1 minute in, you’re ready for it to be over), while at the same time, usually provides you with a solid chuckle afterwards because of something they say, or rather, lack of words they have to say.
Pre-teens and teens need to be taught how to communicate and interact with others – especially adults. They know how to interact with peers, the problem is, that interaction is typically rash and unproductive. Learning politeness, manners, and other communication skills is crucial for the adolescent.
When I was a boy, I distinctly remember my parents sitting my brother and me down to practice phone etiquette. We would be given scenarios to practice helpful phrases, introductions, goodbyes, courteous manners, sincere questions to ask callers, etc. I was taught the art of talking efficiently to people with sincerity and courtesy.
Teens regularly engaging in social networking sites and text messaging/Instant messaging (we’ll refer to this entire group of non-personal interaction as “NPI”), are more consistently tapping into unproductive means of communication. They’re not correctly articulating what and how they want to say things (i.e. “lol”, “brb”, “ttyl”, “lkasdihgnciahdiai”, etc.). A by-product of this is their boldness through NPI sources. Kids are now saying things that they would NEVER say to another in person while looking them in the eye. Therefore, as James Steyer is quoted in an article – Social Networking Has Hidden Dangers For Teens – “If you’re not in the same place as the person, it just feels less personal; it’s easier to do mean things… It’s almost simulated behavior. You can be risky and do riskier things in a digital context.” Adolescents, in turn, are sharpening the wrong edge of the knife! Instead of sharpening their interpersonal skills, they’re sharpening their NPI skills.
Instead, we need to not only remove the “loaded weapon” of NPI from the hands of teenagers, we need to replace it with a healthier tool – one that can help build up, instead of break down – interpersonal communication. Teenagers need to learn how to be confrontational in person; not online. They need to learn how to confess feelings in person; not through a text message. They need to learn when NOT to say things that can be harmful in person; not be tempted through an easy access digital communication form to express rash thoughts. They need to learn to be bold while looking another being in the eye while talking; instead of looking at their profile picture.
Okay, but how does this pertain to Christians?
Everyone is born without a knowledge of the Gospel, therefore the message must be relayed to them. As Christians we’ve been called to carry the Gospel to all nations (Matt 28:19). Not only that, we know that the only way for peoples to be saved is by the hearing of the Gospel – therefore God sends out messengers. This “message”, this “Gospel”, needs to be articulated well, and with clarity (Col 4:4). Herein lies the importance – teenage Christians are missing the opportunity to be effective message carriers. How can we expect these adolescents to accurately teach their friends, other family members, or strangers the glorious good news of Jesus if they can’t even hold a 2 minute phone conversation? Obviously, we know that the Spirit intercedes for us, where we fall short (Luke 12:11-12). And it’s the Spirit who works through us to bring lost souls to the throne (John 16:8-11). But it must be understood that we are responsible for sharpening our skills in this area, which includes personal interaction. How much more effective would a teenager be for the advancement of the Kingdom if he/she learns the art of personal communication! Communication skills must not fall by the wayside – we must teach adolescents how to politely and effectively communicate. After all, lost souls are hanging in the balance…