Decidedly Academic. Distinctively Christian.
Written by Jen Mounday, Dean of Students and Mom of 2
This is a two part series about the importance of tech-free conversation for the building up of relationships and ultimately empathy.
It’s hard to believe that social scientists and psychologists are citing a real need for teaching young people how to have a conversation. They’ve found that young people would rather text than talk, would rather be found on someone’s feed than be truly known, would rather have stimulating digital input than seek connection through conversation. Recent research indicates that as our “plugged in lives” expand, the “flight from conversation” continues at a rapid rate.
Growing up, conversation seemed to be something we just did– all the time, everywhere, with almost anyone. It was a way to pass the time. It was a way to gain clarity and explore ideas. It was self-expression. It was an open door into the heart of someone you cared about. We grew as a family through conversation, met new people and learned more about ourselves. Of course, this was all before the advent of the mobile device. This was before children slept with their phones and moms checked Instagram first thing in the morning and right before bed. This was before top business execs answered to the buzzes and pings in the middle of meetings. This was before you could see dads at the park on benches busily scrolling as their kids mastered the monkey bars. This was before it was normal to see students in class, in the middle of a lesson, strategically glancing up and down from a group text to their teacher’s face. Being fundamentally captivated by technology is now the norm.
The current youth generation, Generation Z, (born in 1996 and after), also known as the “iGen,” is a cohort marked by high-speed Internet, social media, and messaging apps that “don’t leave a paper trail.” I observe this generation in it’s natural habitat as I commute to work each morning. I live near a large, public high school and see the students walking to school each morning. The majority of students can be found wearing a similar uniform of cell phone in hand, ear buds in, and hoodie pulled over the head. Some people call this “style,” but my friend, Ryan Montague, communications professor and author, calls this “emotional armor.”
The trendy, emotional armor of young people is a result of how our plugged in lives are communicating to youth how to live and be in the world. Students frequently complain that they do not have their parents’ full attention because mom and dad are checking, emailing or scrolling social media during family time. In a conversation with a group of high school girls, I was told, “sometimes I just want to be with my parents and for them to be one hundred percent there. When we watch a movie together as a family, a lot of the time my dad will be on his iPad. I’m like, ‘Dad! Just watch a movie with me!’” Students may send a particular message with their emotional armor, but what they really want—what we were all hardwired to desire—is connection through relationship that starts with conversation.
To be continued…