Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't be rude

Driving in my car yesterday listening to NPR, I listened to their story on the teens and texting issue that I wrote about yesterday. One of the researchers talked about the reason kids text so much. Her research showed that teens think that calling people the old-fashioned way, using our actual voices is considered to be rude. How dare someone presume that it would be convenient to talk. And furthermore, it takes way too much time to retrieve messages from their voicemail (38 seconds) to be exact. The burden of having to dial a voice mail number, punch in a code, and actually have to listen to the droning voice of a human being is just to much to bear. I admit, I was dumbfounded. Not actually believing that this could be true, I asked the 60 college students I taught yesterday to weigh in on this research. To my shock and surprise they concurred. So its not only that they are addicted to texting, they are just doing it to be polite. Wow! Anyway this got me thinking about another story I read on Sunday in the Boston Globe about the current teen and young adult generation titled "Empathy is so yesterday". It  cited a recent study "that found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979, with the steepest decline in the last 10 years."Now I'm depressed. When we talk on the phone or god forbid face to face with someone, we can read the sadness, elation, anxiety, fear, anger etc we hear in their voice or see in their face, or read from the way they are carrying their body. A text erases all that. Can it be that our kids are losing the ability to be empathetic because they are literally out of practice? If they don't see a face or hear a voice, but read only short made up words on a screen, how can one detect those subtleties of human emotion. So parents here is your challenge. The capacity to be empathetic is inborn, but especially true in teens. The part of their brain that is the most highly activated during the teen years is the amygdala, the feeling center of the brain. It is an untapped resource ready to be mined. Often it just explodes, or implodes in reaction to something you have said to them, or not said to them, or a look that they think you gave them,  or a question you need an answer to. But it can also be tapped to give understanding and comfort. The best advice I have ever received was from my mother, when I was old enough to appreciate it, late in my 20's, and from my daughter when she was a teenager. She had an uncanny ability to read me, and when I gave her the chance, she gave me invaluable support and guidance for whatever was troubling me.  Given the opportunity she had tremendous capacity for showing me empathy. Many parents feel that they need to be in charge, and the focus of their relationship with their teen is what is going on with their teen. There is very little reciprocity. Teens actually hate that all the attention is focused on them all of the time. We often see their behavior as selfish and self-centered because we don't usually invite them into our lives. Empathy has to be modeled and practiced.  So today when your teen walks in the door and asks: "What's up? Tell them, be honest, whatever it is, let them know if you had a frustrating day, a great day, a sad day. Practice makes perfect!

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