How to Teach Kids to Communicate in This Digital Age
When even the youngest children are spending the equivalent of a full work day looking at screens, it is perhaps no surprise that parents are wondering how to teach their children to communicate in the digital age. Since the parents themselves did not grow up with tablets and smartphones, the situation is even more challenging.
This is a multi-faceted problem. On the one hand, children need to learn how to have traditional, face-to-face conversations unmediated by technology. On the other hand, they also need to learn how to communicate appropriately using technology. Both of these kinds of communication will be vital to their success as adults.
Traditional communication requires extensive screen-free time in order to develop the ability to communicate well. Children need to be taught, for example, the importance of eye contact. They should also understand that there is some cultural variation on the appropriateness of eye contact in different contexts, and they should be prepared for that reality. They will also need time to develop an understanding of non-verbal aspects of communication—something that is foreign to most kinds of digital communication.
Most of all, they need time to develop a feel for the significant differences between digital and face-to-face communication. Parents can make this fun, by, for example, having a regular “no screens, ice cream” dessert night to practice the nearly lost art of conversation. Since leadership and responsibility are essential 21st century skills, students will benefit greatly from developing the ability to communicate well.
Of course, digital communication plays by its own rules. And while the older generation may assume that younger students, as digital natives, know how to communicate well in this realm, that is not often the case. Students will need specific training in how to become responsible digital citizens. A thorough curriculum will include topics such as cyberbullying, self-image, reputation, privacy, security, digital footprint management, and online safety.
Unlike in the non-digital environment, students often lack the examples of proper role models in the digital sphere, which means that they might assume that some types of digital communication are acceptable when the adults in their lives would strongly disagree with that assessment. It can also be difficult for students to understand that what they post online won’t go away—it might impact their future in ways that are hard to predict.
In short, parents and other stakeholders face the complicated task of teaching the rising generation to be able to communicate fluently in two realms: virtual and real.