When Your Child Leaves Home: Some Pitfalls and Positives of Electronic Communication

Larissa Dann Blog Post 21  December 2106                             Image: Shutterstock

I’ve been seduced by Technology and its offspring, Electronic Communication and the Internet.  I’ve been tempted by the offer to save time, enticed by the convenience and ease of use, lured by the promise of instant gratification.

There is, however, a cost to my embracing of texting in its many electronic forms.  I wonder whether my reliance on these media is reducing the quality of connection with my young adult child.

If I chose, I could remain electronically linked with my children 24/7, no matter where they are in the world. Instant contact is available through phone, text, email, messaging, Skype, and social media formats that I haven’t begun to explore.  

Curiously though, sometimes I feel more disconnected than connected when I converse with my child through an electronic medium. 

For me, technological forms of communicating are both a blessing and a curse.

When my eldest was a baby, I learned about respectful communication skills in parenting. I responded to my son’s cues.  I was sensitive to his tone of voice, his frustrated waving of hands, and the expression on his face.   I could look for incongruity.  He might mouth ‘yes’, but his body language stamped a deafening ‘no’! I learned how to listen, and we solved problems together. I spent hours bathing in the wonder of this evolving person.

Our communication was rounded, whole and personal, involving sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. And time.

Now my grown-up child has moved away from home. 

I’ve discovered that my expectations of how we would keep in touch, and how we would communicate, are very different to my son’s.

I grew up in an era where we wrote letters, and I would talk for extended periods on the phone, maintaining my connection with my parents and those close to me.  When I left home, I put aside the time to speak to each of my parents at least once a week, and we would share the occasional long letter. My family maintained regular phone calls for decades, and our relationship remained strong.

In today’s world, children and young adults just don’t seem comfortable talking on the phone.

And writing a letter?  How do you even address an envelope, and where do you put the stamp?

I now mostly connect with my son through technology that involves the written word: emails, phone texts, and messaging via Facebook.

Emails seem reserved for business purposes (‘could you please look at the application I’ve written?’)  Rarely do I receive the social email, the one that fills me in on life in the big smoke, or the latest adventure overseas. They take too much time, like writing a letter. (Mind you, I am not innocent. I also avoid emailing long descriptions of home life – for exactly the same reasons!)

Texting is a more frequent form of communication.  But often texts are one-way (me to him), with replies supplied when necessary.  Sometimes, it seems the only sure way to elicit a timely answer is to send photos of the dogs’ latest escape attempt

Messaging over Facebook seems to be our default communication platform. I am glad to have the ability to contact my boy immediately.  We can share news as it happens, attach articles of interest.  He can send photos of his latest trip overseas while I am asleep, and I can wake to the excitement of the next instalment of his adventures, relieved to know that he is alive and safe. I am awed with the ability to connect instantly with my son when we are in different time zones, different seasons.  During a minute of connection, he might type about snow, and I will reply describing sweltering heat.

To my surprise, I’ve discovered that those parenting communication skills I learned, way back when, are useful even when connecting by typing.  I can guess at feelings, I can try to Active Listen, be respectfully assertive with my I-Message

But there is so much I don’t see, so much I don’t hear. Where is the emotion, hidden in the tapped-out-text, but oh so obvious in the crestfallen face, the scuff of the feet, the very loud silence?  How can I respond to what isn’t said, but clearly exists?  Emojis? Sure. However, they only work if you know what you feel when you type (and the reader interprets them correctly!)

Communication through these written platforms can be abbreviated and flat. 

I miss the subtleties of tone of voice, of facial gesture, of verbal sentences that run into pages of oral discourse. At times I ache to hear my son’s tenor voice, to hear him laugh, or talk our family jargon.

My children are storytellers like their grandfather.  But I can’t hear the drama of their tales over text, an email, or a Facebook message.  We lose so much in the rapid fire of qwerty letters upon a screen.  And don’t get me started on text abbreviations!

Where is the back and forth of verbal repartee, the response to the non-verbal cues?

Sometimes my son and I Skype, or talk over Facebook video call.  Sometimes, we even connect over the phone! Mostly though, we have been seduced by the quick and easy access to words across the screen.

We can feel that by sending a casual text, we’re keeping up our end of the relationship bargain.

Are we?

And then there's the time factor. Technological communication is attractive because it saves time. Because, who has time these days to just sit and talk?

Time is essential for maintaining quality relationships. In days gone by, letters took time to write.  Phone calls took time to make (and were expensive).  Care and thought went into those words on a hand-written page (they could not be immediately deleted). Phone calls meant deliberately putting time aside to maintain connection with a loved one.

Time became an investment in relationship.

Soon my son will return home from his trip overseas.  I will prioritise – less hours into business, more into relationship. I’ll attach this blog to a Facebook message.  And I’ll accompany the article with a heartfelt plea. 

‘Let’s talk’.

© Larissa Dann. 2016.  All rights reserved

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