How today’s shorthand could hinder kids’ development
Published: October 30, 2019
By: Sandi Schwartz
How did we get to a point in which our communication has become progressively shorter and shorter over time? On Twitter recently there was a hashtag asking people to tell a story in three words.
Just. Three. Words.
We have a president who prefers to write major statements about policy that impact the entire world on Twitter. When you are limited to only 140 characters (characters, not words!), how can anyone expect to really understand what he means? And when preteens and teens only “talk” to their friends using brief phrases and emojis, what are we left with?
Here are five aspects of communication that are being sacrificed when our children grow up speaking and writing in phrases, which can only hinder their development over time:
- Emotional Connection and Expression. We use words to express our feelings to others about our observations, concerns and hopes. How will our children learn to do this if they are cutting out an enormous opportunity for verbal and written expression by dumbing-down the message?
Researchers are assessing whether emoticons help us to communicate better or hinder self-expression. They have found that on one hand it is nice to have an international symbol for certain emotions that we can easily click on to say how we feel about a Facebook post, for example. However, emoticons convey a limited choice of emotions, reducing ways to truly express our full range of feelings. They also cut out the opportunity for people to use descriptive words to say how they feel because they provide a shorthand option to simply click on one image that is supposed to capture thoughts and feelings. This is unfortunately limiting opportunities for expression, and if our children grow up with this quick option, it will impact their ability to express their emotions.
Additionally, when we hide behind our devices instead of talking face-to-face with those we love, we miss out on a major chance for emotional connection. According to Psychology Today, this kind of communication interferes with actual conversation and undermines our ability to connect with others. Social media actually becomes a barrier to connecting with others. As children are constantly exposed to these quick, impersonal ways of “expressing” themselves, they miss out on learning how to accurately convey their thoughts and feelings out loud as well as in writing.
- Non-Verbal Communication. Nothing beats looking into someone’s eyes to truly understand what he means and how he feels. A huge part of our daily communications depends on visual cues like facial expressions, body language, posture and tone of voice. In fact, studies show that only 7 percent of communication is based on the written or verbal word, while 93 percent is based on non-verbal body language. Sitting behind a screen and sending a few words or images is not going to help a person really understand how the person on the other end thinks and feels.
As children spend more time in this world of snippets, they are losing the ability to pick up on these non-verbal expressions that can be so important in understanding others.
UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without using a smartphone, television or other digital screen did much better at understanding human emotions than those who spent several hours a day looking at their electronic devices. Patricia Greenfield, author of the study, explained that decreased sensitivity to emotional cues is lost when face-to-face social interaction is replaced with screen interaction. Learning how to read other people’s moods is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Sadly, children today are missing out on developing that skill.
- Social Skills. Children and teens lose out on a slew of social skills when they only communicate in short statements online. Learning how to interact in person with others and to speak in public are critical skills for future success. Our kids need to practice these skills throughout their childhood to get ready for critical moments in their lives, like school presentations, college and job interviews, and making an announcement at a social event.
In addition, other basic social skills are also being affected. In an article in Huffington Post, child psychologist Melissa Ortega pointed out how children are struggling to deal with face-to-face conflict because they are accustomed to hiding behind their screens to communicate. Ortega said that conversations take practice, and children are not getting enough interpersonal exposure.
Experts are also seeing how this type of limited communication is influencing the dating world. Teens raised to just text and not hold a personal conversation are limited in how they can express their feelings to their peers. The lack of direct communication is impacting their ability to build trust and develop an emotional connection with others.
- Creative Language, Grammar and Spelling. Another place that brief communication is changing our children’s lives is in the classroom. The way kids are communicating online is creeping into their school work, leading to sloppy grammar, spelling mistakes and reduced creativity. The best literature throughout history is filled with embellished language and imaginative stories. If our children limit the number of words they use to tell a story or to debate an issue, the entire premise of communications changes.
The Association of American Educators indicates that social media has led to students talking in “text-speak,” causing an overall trend of bad grammar, punctuation and spelling for the sake of convenience and speed. Also making it into coursework are abbreviations used on social media, which is clearly incorrect language. A paper released by the English Spelling Society concludes that the internet has revolutionized the English language and made spelling mistakes the norm. This is not a surprise since we now rely on crutches like auto-correct, which also reduces the level of thought required to write.
- Meaning of Words. How many times have you misinterpreted what someone wrote in an email or text? So much can be lost in translation when we are unable to see or hear how the person is communicating specific words to us. If children are primarily communicating with friends and family by typing phrases, that leaves many opportunities for the message to be misconstrued. This can lead to stressful situations because the reader may incorrectly jump to the conclusion that the writer intended to be hurtful, when in reality it was just how the words were interpreted. Brief communication can then lead to negative emotions like anger, depression or anxiety over how someone thinks they are being treated.
As an example, an article in Forbes discussed how the instances of misinterpretation are growing in the business environment. As people are rushed, stressed and primarily communicating by quick electronic messages, they are not taking the time to consider the nuances of their writing. This is leading to more conflicts about the tone of emails.
It is only worse with our children who are gossiping and making plans with friends in group texts using symbols and acronyms. How does someone really know what it means when the writer uses all capital letters? Are they yelling, joking or just highlighting an issue? When someone responds to you with a one- or two-word answer, does that mean they are brushing you off? With this type of communication, we are left to draw conclusions with very little information. If our children do not learn how to tell people exactly what they mean using complete sentences, will they ever be happy and successful?