Communication-Building in the Digital Age by Donna Hammontree
Communication-building in the Digital Age can be daunting. Adult communication with adolescents and pre-adolescents can be a challenge. While technology has made staying in touch with youth easier than ever -- with calls, texts and emails at our fingertips --, teenagers frequently impart information only“as required,” sometimes to prevent cell phone confiscation, sometimes responding “on the fly” from one activity to the next, and other times so disconnected its an action-reaction response. At the same time, they seem to be able to write hundreds of texts a day while simultaneously doing homework, talking on the phone with friends, and downloading music. Yet with parents respond with single words, for example:
Do you have soccer practice today? Yes
What time will you be home? Don’t know
I am cooking dinner for you. K
Do you have much homework? Some
We pay for the cell phone so you can communicate with us. We will talk more when you get home. K
Communication-Building in the Digital Age
Technology does help most of us (including adolescents) communicate briefly, time-effectively and more fully throughout any given day so families are better able to stay abreast of daily activities and whereabouts. Technology does not, however, replace sitting down face-to-face for heart-to-heart conversations, nor is it the reason that kids and teenagers are brief and non engaging in their communications with parents.
Many of the families with whom I work do try to make time at dinner to review their daily activities, or play games, watch a movie or some other family activity. This relationship time is wonderful! Yet sometimes caregivers feel the need to solve all of the problems at once, or lecture about decision-making, and it is often difficult to move beyond discussions about general topics to subject matter that is embarrassing, sad, or potentially controversial -- the ones that impact our lives. School counselors and mental health therapists also struggle with getting the involuntary or withdrawn adolescent to open up. Relationship-building and validation of feelings is key, and that requires active listening to hear unspoken and non-verbal communications.
A favorite tool of mine that I have used for many years is the The Ungame
. It is a non-competitive board game that provides a therapeutic opportunity to open channels of communication, with teens and/or among family members. Participants get to select from general or more personal topics, and the questions presented can lead to full dialogue about subjects frequently not considered. The Ungame
provides some general tips for communicating, essentially with anyone. When using the Ungame game consider these tips:
- Be open to discussing light-hearted topics.
- Let people pass if they do not feel comfortable sharing. Be accepting of each person’s opinions and perceptions.
- Create emotional safety to talk about deeper subjects.
- Leave plenty of room for everyone to talk with no one monopolizing the conversation.
- Be quiet and listen without preparing one’s next statement.
- Use non-verbal body language to give full attention.
- Show interests by asking questions or making non-judgmental comments when it is one’s turn.
- Be willing to be personal in a manner that is appropriate.
- Remember that communicating is not a competition!
The Ungame offers a way to practice communicating with 2 to 6 people. It is a great way to get a normally quiet person to open up and the more outspoken person to leave room for others to participate. It can be played with a counselor or therapist and 1 or more teens, or the game can be utilized in an outpatient mental health office with families. Families can even play it at home! And while there are multiple versions of the game, I am partial to the original and have used it for years. Good communication can change the one word texting answers shown in the opening example into a more personal one like this: Do you have soccer practice today? Yes. Remembered my cleats and Coach was in good mood. I'll be home early. That will be great! Wish I could watch you practice. Will go to your game Thursday night. Know you will be hungry tonight, cooking favorite meal for you. Great, tnks, Finished math @school. Will start my research project after I clean my room. Matt broke up with Julie today. She was crying, I felt so sad for her. So sorry! Let’s talk about it before you have to study. Dinner ready when you get home. Lol, well, maybe…. Click here for more parenting games and tools Visit Donna Hammontree for services in Savannah
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