I’ve been thinking lately about the “lost arts of communication” that are becoming almost extinct among our nation’s youth. 

The most obvious, that has been going downhill for many years, is handwriting of course, both print and cursive, as our kids are asked to turn in school papers almost exclusively printed by a computer once they get into middle school/junior high.  They don’t write letters to cousins or “pen pals” anymore– a Facebook message will do just fine, and even summer camps have computers now.  E-cards have replaced birthday cards, e-vites have replaced invitations…so when they do get the chance to use their handwriting, it doesn’t look that great– most elementary schools these days find little room in their curriculum for perfecting printing or cursive.  (I actually took my teen to a couple of private handwriting classes when she was in 6th grade, I was so concerned at what I was seeing– it helped a little.)

Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow recently wrote about the dying art of handwriting and shared some eye-opening information–  the recently released Beloit College Mindset List, an annual tradition for over a decade that lets college professors (and the general public) get a better understanding of America’s incoming freshman class (this year born in 1992), had at the top of this year’s list (a list which also included “Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess”): 1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.  And Blow has discovered that not only do today’s teens have a hard time writing in cursive, they can’t read it, either.  He writes, “Those of us who write in cursive may be a dying breed, but we’re not dead yet.  And it sure seems important for young people to be able to read the cursive in a teacher’s whiteboard notes, a boss’s instructions or grandmother’s letter.”

And it’s still important for them to be able to write in both print and cursive.  Those kids who don’t seem to need handwriting anymore will fill out applications for jobs, colleges, drivers licenses, and sign all sorts of other important documents as well– and not all are on computer.   My teen recently had to fill out several of the aforementioned documents and I winced a little when I looked them over…guess her printing might still have been more readable than other applicants, as she still got the job…

The other lost “art” that has recently been on my mind is verbal phone skill.  Since kids text more than they talk via phone, this latter skill is really getting weak, I think.  And not only do kids prefer, probably 10 to 1, texting over talking, if they do have to make a call, it can ONLY be to another person’s cell phone.  Heaven forbid if they have to call a land line– it just won’t happen.  I used to think that was just my teen’s hangup, being shy about things, but recently I found out differently.

See, she had her phone taken away by my husband a couple weeks ago for disciplinary reasons, for several days.  And during that time she was completely incommunicado with her friends. She was bored out of her mind, and wanted to call them to see if they wanted to see a movie, etc., but “couldn’t” call them from our home phone since their cell phone numbers were stored on her cell phone.  And she refused to call their home phone numbers.

“No way,” she said.  “What if their parents answered?”
(Ummm…..what ever happened to, “May I please speak to ______?”
)   “I don’t know their home numbers anyway!” she said.

I told her about several places she could look, like that ancient relic The Phone Book, and also the church directory, and the school directory, all easy to access in our home…and of course the Internet’s phone number database.  It didn’t matter.   She preferred to suffer “in silence”.

She was sure she was going to have tons of messages on her phone when she got it back— “Everyone’s probably wondering where I am!!” she lamented. I doubted that, as I figured if they wanted to reach her bad enough they would call our land line.  Surely she was the only kid who refused to “phone home”.

I was wrong.  A few days into her phone-less life, the doorbell rang unexpectedly one afternoon and two of her friends stood outside.  They looked apprehensive.

“Hi, is Allison here? Is she okay?” they asked.
“She hasn’t been answering her phone for days so we were worried about her,” one said.
“Or we thought she was ignoring us,” said the other.
“We want to see if she wants to go with us to get snow cones.”

Our daughter was delighted to see them, and happy to be getting out of the house. As she ran upstairs to get ready, I talked to her friends as they waited.  I explained that Allison hadn’t had her phone for a few days.  “Why didn’t you call her on the home phone?” I asked.  They said they didn’t know the number.  I told them about that ancient relic, The Phone Book, and since they both attend our church, I mentioned the church directory, as well as the school phone directory. A “lightbulb” moment happened for them.

“Wow, we never thought of that!” they said.

We talked on. I said it was nice that they had surprised her like this.

“Is that okay to do?” one of them asked.  “I mean, people just don’t drop in on each other any more so we were kinda worried if we were being rude…”

Not at all, I said.  “I think it’s nice to be surprised by unexpected guests now and then, and so it’s okay to just knock on the door to see if your friend is home– if they’re not, it’s no big deal… and if they’re there but busy, they can just tell you…”

I generally love surprise visits and think it adds fun to an otherwise routine day.  And it also adds a measure of caring–  I think my daughter felt extra special because her friends cared enough to drive out of their way to come and see her.

So I guess that adds two more methods of communication that are becoming extinct: surprise visits, and even simply knocking on a door, having to talk to whoever opens it.  Because most of the time when my daughters have friends coming by to pick them up, it’s all planned well in advance by text.  And when the friends arrive, they usually text “We’re here”…and the girls walk out to the car.

3 thoughts on “Teens and Interpersonal Communication: Not Very Personal Anymore

  1. Wow! I hadn’t thought of that before. What a great article. And it totally makes sense. We just hired a new accounting clerk (she’s in her early 20’s) and she has no phone skills at all. She’s a good worker and very sweet, but she doesn’t know how to talk on the phone, and it affects her phone confidence. She’s also one of MANY people I know that prefer to text over anything else. I have to admit- I don’t love talking on the phone. I often text instead. And cell phones didn’t exist until I was in college.

  2. Thanks for sharing.  One thing I didn’t write about in the article, though, is– now what? It makes you wonder, as the younger generation rules the world, if we will become an all-texting world.  You want to order a pizza? Text in the order. You need to call 911? Text your location!  But I hope that doesn’t happen.  While I love the written word, so often I (and others) have gotten in trouble with it because without someone hearing voice inflection, being able to give instant feedback, etc., what you write can be taken the wrong way and come across as angry or some other emotion you weren’t intending!

  3. I was really shocked when I heard a few months ago that many schools had stopped teaching handwriting. REALLY. SHOCKED. I asked my college aged nieces if they knew handwriting, they both said no and could not really write, by hand, everything.

    We are very lucky that my dd’s school starts teaching handwriting in the second grade. (This is why it was a shock that other schools don’t do this) I just cannot imagine going through life not being able to read and write in a script style.

    Oh, and I am so going to dread all the texting I’m sure dd will be doing when she is older. Right now the landline is a novelty to her and she is enjoying talking to her friends on the phone.

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