BY NEMOURS MAR 2018
TEACHING TEENS HOW TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS BEYOND ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION
These days they’re as inseparable as toddlers and their teddy bears. When your teens (and, increasingly, tweens) aren’t updating their Facebook pages, they’re probably texting friends or blaring music through mp3 players. And here’s the irony: Today’s young people are more “connected” than any other generation in history, but they have a general inability to, well, connect. In fact, says Maribeth Kuzmeski, many can barely carry on the most basic conversations and have trouble articulating what they want or need.
“I’m not saying the digital world is the reason why young people struggle to function in the real one,” says Kuzmeski, author of the new book The Engaging Child: Raising Children to Speak, Write, and Have Relationship Skills Beyond Technology. “At least it’s not the only one. It’s more like a crutch. Because technology is so pervasive, teens use it as a substitute for real conversations. And so they don’t hone those critical skills.
“The ability to engage and collaborate with others in a meaningful way is critical in a global society,” she adds. “So when young people don’t learn how, they really do hurt their chances for a successful life.”
Learning to engage and connect, of course, begins long before the teen years. Kids learn by doing. And just as we must push kids to clean their rooms and do their homework, it’s up to us as parents to force them to interact with others in persuasive, polite, and engaging ways.
Technology is only part of the problem, Kuzmeski points out. The other part is that we tend to do things for our kids that we need to be teaching them to do for themselves. We set up their dental appointments, for example. We place their orders in restaurants. We talk to their teachers. We do these things because we’ve always done them—and in the process, we squander what could be rich learning opportunities.
When parents step back and let kids manage these kinds of everyday situations—while initially providing plenty of coaching—they’re surprised by how quickly their teen’s communication skills blossom.
- Have them place a restaurant order. The next time you’re dining out, use it as an opportunity for your teen to interact with the server in a way that gets results. Instruct him to order his own meal, complete with requests to hold the pickles, ask for drink refills, or bring extra napkins. Have your teen engage with the server in positive ways when he checks in throughout the meal.
- Ask them to set up an appointment. Whenever he needs to visit the doctor, dentist, or hairstylist (or even when your dog needs to go to the vet!), ask him to call and book the appointment.
- Tech them how to decline invitations. Once she has looked at the calendar and seen that she’s already busy, go over polite refusals with her so that she knows what to say. Then ask her to call the event’s host and explain why she can’t attend.
“Even in adulthood, it can be difficult to say no, even when it’s in our best interests,” says Kuzmeski. “It’s uncomfortable to disappoint people. That’s why we so often cop out and send an email or just don’t show up. It’s smart to teach your kids early how to say no, and to do it without softening the blow with a lie.
- Equip them to converse with a stranger. Most kids are very comfortable “LOLing,” “BRBing,” and “TTYLing.” But when it’s time to have a good, old-fashioned verbal conversation, especially with someone they don’t know well, many kids tend to clam up. Whether your child is a chatterbox at home or not, opening up to strangers (in your presence, of course!) can be quite intimidating. The next time your family is in a larger-scale social setting (like a holiday party, family reunion, or worship service), give him a few ideas of how he can strike up a conversation and power through awkward lulls with people he doesn’t see every day. #