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The Technology Taboo: Texting vs. Real Conversation

Has cyberspace slang and texting created a communication rift between parents and kids?

Getting my daughter to answer her cell phone almost always results in getting sent straight to her obnoxious voicemail with Lady Gaga screaming back at me. But send her a text and I get a response within 30 seconds flat. What I receive, though, is a jumble of characters and jargon that I don’t understand. Such as “ttyad” for "talk to you after dinner" or “hk” for "hugs and kisses" or “idk” for "I don’t know." There is something greatly missed when a human voice is replaced by a buzz on my cell phone.

As technology becomes more advanced, real-time, portable and integrated, a rift between parents and their kids is created. Plain and simple, the rift are the skills of basic communication becoming obsolete. Cyber slang and acronyms are replacing the inherent need for real conversation and human interaction.

As this generation cultivates an encrypted language that is understood by mainly just their peers, parents are falling out of tune with whom and in what their kids are involved. On the other hand, for some families, the availability of fast, non-verbal communication aids in keeping tabs on what their kids are doing. It can have its place, if monitored carefully.

Where Internet-speak began as a way to speed up communication and lessen keystrokes, it’s also become a way to hide the use of drugs, alcohol and sexual engagement. Kids are creating their own verbiage to intentionally keep adults in the dark. This applies to cell phones, online chat rooms, social media sites and email. The slang “airhead” and “dinkie dow” may indicate marijuana use. The abbreviation “g2gpc” is a quick note indicating "got to go, parents coming."

I believe this new mode of interaction will be a detriment to their social skills. As these kids enter into adulthood and into the workforce and mature relationships they will be at a disadvantage. True communication is not just words; it is body language, voice inflection, tone and the way we carry ourselves.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh of Largo, a licensed marriage and family therapist and mental health counselor, known as Dr. Lori on Spirit FM radio, explained:

“Our ability to communicate is limited by our vocabulary. This is why there is a growing trend to teach sign language to babies. Their ability to communicate via sign language exceeds their verbal ability for a long time. Electronic communications often rely on abbreviated means of communication. Imagine the difference between texting, ‘I’m lonely’ versus having the focused attention of someone while you talk about being lonely, the factors, and get some real support besides a brief response on a screen.  This sort of communication seems to allow people to have the illusion of being close with people without true emotional connection. If it’s simply one aspect of communication, and there really are meaningful conversations at other times, that’s different. I fear, though, that many young people communicate in person very much as they do electronically – in brief, terse bits of information that are believed to be shared language but may mean very different things to different people.”

Tara Ryan-Legowski of Bradenton and mother of a 13- and 16-year-old said, “My kids’ generation doesn’t talk anymore. Everything they do is on a keyboard or online. Their laughs, fights, struggles, make-ups and break-ups are all typed out instead of spoken. There are many times when my kids will text me and I call them back just to hear their voices. It is interesting that they think this is strange sometimes. I teach kindergarten, and I am shocked at how many first and second graders already have cell phones.”

Puterbaugh commented, “When families had a single landline phone for the household, phone usage was monitored and public. The increasing separation between family members and phone use has led to easier secrecy and overreliance on electronic connections. Parents are simply less aware of when and with whom their teens are communicating.”

When I was younger, there were two phones in our household, one in the kitchen attached to a wall and the other in my parents’ bedroom. Both with spiraling phone cords that limited distance. Any chance for privacy meant huddling down under the kitchen counter and cupping my hand over the phone. When cordless phones became the standard, it was a new found freedom to be able to walk to another room. My parents always knew who we are talking to and they usually could hear our conversations in full.

It’s more challenging today with mobile devices to have this open awareness. It is recommended that parents take away cell phones at bedtime, even for older teenagers, as a general household rule. Some mobile carriers may provide a history of text dialogue by request.

As technology changes it affects the way people communicate. But basic communication and interpersonal skills should not go to the way side. It’s important for parents to embrace change but also instill core values and skills to their children and have a role in monitoring the use of technology for their families.

There are several resources online to help parents encrypt Internet slang, such as noslang.com. You can enter terms to decode or access a compiled alphabetic list of slang and acronyms and their meanings.

For more information on Dr. Puterbaugh and her services, visit www.balancedlifestylecoaching.com.

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