Lols. Ur my bae. Omfg, pmsl 🙂
I’m sorry, I can’t even begin to talk like the younger generation. Now, I know that language is constantly changing and developing etc, and there’s a risk that this post will just sound like the grumblings of an old fogey. But since 11YO got a smartphone for her last birthday, I’ve been wondering whether all these digital communication channels are actually helping children to, well, communicate.
This is the problem: 11YO may have a phone, but she doesn’t know how to use the darn thing. Sure, she can build things on Minecraft at lightning speed, find the latest Miranda on YouTube and upload videos onto Instagram, but can she actually use the phone like, you know, an actual phone, to call or text a friend and arrange to meet up? Barely – at least not without me leaning over her shoulder and prompting her.
And you know what? It’s my fault. When the telephone rings in our house, Husband and I look at each other and say “That’ll be your Mum or my Dad” – because they’re the only two actual human beings who ever call us on the landline these days. If it’s not one of them, it will be a recorded message from a call centre trying to sell us a PPI refund or some other scam. If I need to get in touch with any other family member, or one of my friends, I use a variety of text messaging, Facebook or WhatsApp. My children almost never hear me talking to a friend on the phone. So it’s hardly surprising that since getting a smartphone for her birthday, 11YO has regularly exceeded her monthly data allowance but hardly ever uses any of her call allowance.
This is a massive change from when I was a child. I grew up knowing how to use the telephone because I heard adults making phone-calls every single day. It was an essential part of a social life in the seventies and eighties. I remember listening to half a conversation for what seemed like forever when my Mum settled down for a chat on the phone (we didn’t call it the landline because it was just The Phone) with one of her friends, cuppa in hand, sitting on the bottom stair – because in those days the phone was always in the hall. And as I grew up, I took my place on that bottom step, calling friends to discuss what had gone on at school or where we were meeting at the weekend. If my best friend and I had something particularly important to discuss, I would drag the telephone as far as its curly wire would stretch across the hall, so I could sit on the floor with my back against the radiator, and chat for as long as I could until my parents yelled at me about the phone bill.
Does it matter? You could argue that this is just the way of the world, the telephone is becoming obsolete and our children will all be communicating via Google Glass when they enter the world of work anyway. But the occasional glance at my daughter’s Whatsapp messages makes me think that actually there’s precious little communication going on. Much of what she sends and receives are one liners, littered with acronyms, spelling mistakes and emojis. Quite often she doesn’t reply to friends because she doesn’t actually understand what their last message meant.
At her age I was in telephone communication with a far smaller group of friends – maybe only one or two – but communicating far more effectively. This makes me think that I must have been indirectly picking up communication skills just by listening to those half-conversations which I heard my parents having. Whereas now, I keep in touch with my friends by texting. And this is the thing: from a child’s point of view, that lovely supportive (and correctly spelled) conversation I’m having with my friend via text message actually just looks the same as if I was playing Subway Surfers. When parents are hunched over our phones, children don’t see that we’re taking turns in a conversation, being kind or sympathetic, making plans or arrangements – all they see is that we’re hunched over our phones.
So lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to let my children see/ hear me communicating with other adults. I’ve tried to call people for a chat or to make arrangements, rather than text. If I’ve received a message or a funny comment on Facebook, I’ll read it out loud so that they can hear how adult friends talk to each other. I’ve even written an old fashioned letter on a piece of paper to a couple of friends (which caused utter bewilderment in my children!)
Is it helping? I’d like to think so, a little bit. 5YO occasionally manages a lucid conversation with her Grandad on the phone, and 11YO recently co-ordinated getting two different friends round for tea without me speaking to either of their parents. But it’s made me realise that children are learning from us constantly, even when we don’t think we’re teaching them anything – and I don’t want to just teach them how to do this: