Give Them Roots, Wings and Virtual “Busy Signals” – The Greatest Generation on the App Generation

IMG_5219What does The Greatest Generation think of the App Generation?

Upon surveying her friends, my very wise 80-year-old mom explained that when it comes to social media and cell phones, there is a wide range of understanding, but almost a unanimous opinion…they are concerned.

images-2We may giggle along with eSurance’s commercial where to save time, Grandma Beatrice literally posts her vacation photos “on her wall.”   But there is some brilliant truth, and several layers of insight, when her friend declares, “That’s not how it works.  That’s not how any of this works!”

How does it all work?  Or, is the better question, “Is it all working?”  When it comes to parenting and texting, my mother is especially concerned.

“Why do Amanda and Jake need to text you from school with every little thing?  How are they suppose to make any of their own decisions when they are wirelessly tethered to you?”

We all grew up in the age of corded phones, telephone booths, busy signals and collect calls.  If we needed our parents, we could connect, but it took some effort and we often had to wait it out.  But, now our text-messaging enabled smartphones offer instant gratification.  And, knowing that our teens have a phone, literally in their back pockets, alleviates anxiety for both parents and kids.

No doubt, we are living through a sociolinguistic transformation brought on by the ubiquitous Internet.  Not just a media culture shift (radio, TV, computer, Smartphone), but also a communications culture shift where the majority of us are texting junkies, and use hash tags and smiley faces to communicate.  With our digital natives as the experts at putting all of these new communications tools into practice, we are, fortunately or unfortunately, compelled to follow.

We all love hearing from our kids and grandkids, but unless it is time-sensitive or an emergency, maybe we don’t need to return their texts instantly? Perhaps we don’t have to drop everything for their every whim, for their immediate satisfaction, and give them the virtual “busy signal”?

Here are some text message exchanges my husband and I have had with our two teenagers. You may be able to relate:

Child: I got a 95% on my science test!!!
Mom: “WELL DONE SWEETS!!!”

Child: “I left my social studies binder at home w my homework that’s due! I think it’s on my desk. Can you bring it to school?  I need it now…

Dad: “Okay.  I’ll be there in 10 minutes!”

Child: I missed the bus.  Can u pick me up?

Mom: Sure.  But you could walk?

Child: “I think I have soccer practice after school?  Should I eat a hamburger for lunch or get something healthier?  A salad?”

Mom: “Just make sure you have fruit.  Did you pack a banana?”

Child: “Are we doing anything fun after school?”

Dad: “I’m at work.”

Child: “Whatcha doing?”

Mom: “Working.  What are you doing?  Aren’t you at school?”

According to my friend Cheryl, a mom, and associate dean in higher education, “I think we parents are too in touch with our kids.  My husband is a 9th grade social studies teacher. He tells about parents who text their kids during the school day! They’re not even supposed to have their phones on!”

And, it’s not just texting.  My friend Shelly told me that her good friend has been Skyping with her fifteen-year-old daughter during lunch – every day!

“If I heard from my kids all day long, we’d all be dysfunctional!” said Dottie Grant Reed, head administrator, Camp Pemigewassett. “This isn’t an issue of whether or not technology is here to stay, its about how we, as parents, communicate with our kids and if our goal is to have them NEED to be in touch with us (because they are dependent on us to solve their problems) or WANT to be in touch with us (because they are independent and engaged citizens and are eager to share their experiences).

So what can we as parents do?

Here’s an idea.  Wait it out.  If the text or phone message isn’t an emergency, give it a little time before you respond.  Five minutes at first and a little longer each time.  Or use the built in Smartphone one-touch option and respond with either, “Sorry, I can’t talk right now,” or “Can I call you later?” Give your children a window to figure out how to handle the situation by themselves without your input.   See how they do and teach them through their mistakes.

I turned back to my mother, former middle school teacher, administrator and my family’s favorite social media channel…

“I am concerned about this younger generation.  The ability to make decisions puts you on the road to maturity – to becoming a responsible, confident adult.  It’s about trusting your instincts and having faith in yourself.  These kids are relying way too much on their parents. They’ll never learn from their decisions – and the valuable lessons that come from making mistakes.”

She then reminded me of one of her favorite quotes:

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” – Denis Waitley

Bytes of Wisdom

  • Measure the urgency of your child’s text messages before you instantly respond and hit send.  As in the days of collect calls when our parents decided whether they were willing to “accept charges” – we are in control of allowing our kids to make their own decisions.  
  • Practice being a listener instead of a fixer.
  • Allow kids to make mistakes and then be there to help them learn from them.
  • “If you’re lucky enough to have a parent alive on this planet, call them. Don’t text. Don’t email…listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.” – J.K. Simmons speech upon receiving the 2014 Academy Award.
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