Tuesday, September 11, 2012

TTYL ... or not

With the rise of technology as a purveyor of social interactions and information, society has to rely on messaging as a means of communication. Whether it is email, text messaging, video chatting or any number of numerous applications used on smart phones (Whats Ap, Hey Tell, BBM, i message, ect....) technology seems to be the middle man that sells our social exchanges. Within the context of efficiency this has made out lives a lot easier. We can respond to others on the go, return messages with ease and even automate responses to others- effectively making ourselves available 24/7. However, as fully functioning adults most of us have had practice developing our interpersonal skills prior to relying on technology. We have had meetings with teachers, talks with coaches and middle school social gatherings, all of which have helped to shape our social etiquette and ability to self-reflect on our role in face-to-face interactions. Fast forward to Generation Y , or the Mellenials (those born between 1981 and 2000 ), and suddenly there is a great number of individuals that have grown up not knowing what it is like to have to call someone on the phone or, heaven for bid, write a letter. Although some of the early Generation Y babies grew up during the transition to the digital age (1981- 1991), many children in this generation (and the one coming after it) will grow up in an era where communication will no longer require another human being to be physically present. What are the social ramifications of this? How will this impact our future generations ability to problem solve and communicate effectively? The short answer is IDK (I don't know). Unfortunately this is a question that will have to be discussed within our nations school system, where children first learn the ability to work with others and develop face-to face communication skill.

A recent consumer report indicates that of the 20 million minors who use Facebook, 1/3 are under the age of 13 (which is the minimum age necessary for an account as well as the age of protection for the Children's Online Privacy Act). Among these users 5 million are under the age of 10 and are unsupervised by their parents. Along with minors using social media to communicate, daily text messaging has increased from 50 messages per day in 2009 to 60 messages per day in 2011. Texting has become the number one preferred manner of communication for teenagers (talking face to face is a dismal third according to a 2010 pew research report.) Data suggests that even with the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversations over phones and computers, only 1 in 5 Americans have even tried it. Not having to face someone else is the easy way out and eliminates the emotional baggage that comes with face-to-face conversations. This is the logical progression of a society that is obsessed with efficiency.  The data is overwhelmingly obvious of the transition away from face-to-face communication as the preferred method for our nations youth; however, interpersonal communication is a skill that must be developed in future generations.

As children grow and navigate through the world, they must use language and communication to develop schemas in order to understand reality. These schemas are created through active construction with the world around them. A child must assimilate new information into a schema in order to create an understanding between what they know and what they perceive. If there is a discrepancy between what is know and what is experienced, then preconceived notions must be accommodated in order to support this new experience. This is especially important in during communication with others. According to communication researcher Albert Mehrabian, when we are forming an attitude (or in this case a schema) during a social exchange 55% of our information comes from nonverbal cues, 38% comes from tone of voice and 7% comes from word meaning. These numbers form the basis of the infamous 7:38:55 % rule. Now it should be noted that these numbers are applicable within the context of creating a judgement (like or dislike) regarding what is being said  or how it is being said. For example, an eighth grade student telling another 8 grade student "That bag is soooo swag (cool)." If one is confused whether they are being serious or sarcastic, most will heavily rely on tone and nonverbal cues such as body language to decipher such.

 Hopefully we can see where this is all going. As children mature and have to read ambiguous social communication cues it is imperative that they hone their nonverbal communication abilities. Cyber-bullying as well as child predators thrive on the inability to perceive nonverbal cues during exchanges on Facebook or other social media. Further, as online learning websites grow in popularity,  children will begin to miss out on the group work and teacher scaffolding that builds social skills and communication. Most important is the emotional context which is lost through "e communication". When using social media and texting, we don't build the empathy, shared enjoyment and theory of mind necessary to not only sustain relationships but also learn about the world.

 As technology grew, schools made it a point to educate our children on how to use technology, from media classes to integrating technology into curriculum. However, when this technology takes over as a dominant form of communication style it will also be our responsibility as educators to teach effective communication styles. This will most likely need to be directly taught as it is with children with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Just as there is now a class period to learn how to use a computer, it may be necessary to have a class period in the future to learn how to read others in face-to-face conversations.

Reviewing some of the current interventions in this area leads mostly to social skill interventions with regards to children with Asperger's Disorder, Autism and Emotional/ Behavioral difficulties. However, as this issue continues to grow these programs may also be appropriate for kids who are more intent on texting than talking:

Empirically based Social Skills programs:

"Stop and Think" Social Skills Program (Knoff): Part of Project ACHIEVE (Knoff and Batsche). Has demonstrated success in reducing student discipline referrals to the principal's office, school suspensions, and expulsions; fostering positive school climates and prosocial interactions; increasing students' on-task behavior; and improving academic performance. http://www.projectachieve.info

  • Primary Mental Health Project (Cowen et al.) Targets children K-3 and addresses social and emotional problems that interfere with effective learning. It has been shown to improve learning and social skills, reduce acting, shyness and anxious behaviors, and increase frustration tolerances. http://www.sharingsuccess.org/code/eptw/profiles/48.html

  • The EQUIP Program (Gibbs, Potter, & Goldstein) Offers a three-part intervention method for working with antisocial or behavior disordered adolescents. The approach includes training in moral judgment, anger management/correction of thinking errors, and prosocial skills. http://www.researchpress.com/scripts/product.asp?item=4848#5134

  • The PREPARE Curriculum (Goldstein) Presents a series of 10 course-length interventions grouped into three areas: reducing aggression, reducing stress, and reducing prejudice. It is designed for use with middle school and high school students but can be adapted for use with younger students. http://www.researchpress.com/scripts/product.asp?item=5063

  • The ACCEPTS Program (Walker et al) Offers a complete curriculum for teaching effective social skills to students at middle and high school levels. The program teaches peer-to-peer skills, skills for relating to adults, and self-management skills. http://www.proedinc.com/customer/productView.aspx?ID=625&SearchWord=ACCEPTS%20PROGRAM

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