Updated: Nov 20, 2021
With each passing year, technology affords us the ability to lead our daily lives with increasingly limited verbal interaction. Along with the obvious conveniences brought by these technological advances, something extremely valuable is slipping away right in front our eyes: the many benefits of face-to-face dialogues. Increasing numbers of children and adolescents are demonstrating difficulty engaging in oral conversation. Many rarely instigate a face-to-face conversation. When forced to engage, they may respond in short or one-word answers.
Each day, countless numbers of students stand at bus stops, faces down, backs toward one another, staring at their phones with fingers tapping away. Bus videos reveal that the same scenario continues during the ride to school; students sitting with ear buds securely in place, lost in their own thoughts.
Over the course of my career, I regularly encountered children who struggled with verbal expression. Some did not seem to fully understand that a real conversation, a meaningful conversation, includes making direct eye contact while sharing thoughts, expressing opinions, making inquiries, or clarifying a position. Along with their struggle to converse with clarity, they were also unable to interpret facial expressions, voice tone and body language.
Though it is common for preteens and teens to go through periods when interactive dialog with their parents lessens considerably, if the foundation is there, meaningful conversation can occur, often at the most random times; random times often open the door for additional parental wisdom to be imparted at a pivotal moment for the child. Wisdom that just might prove to be more valuable than either parent or child would/could know at the time.
Mealtime is an excellent time for families to engage in interactive conversation. Sadly, in today’s culture, families often sit in a restaurant staring at their cell phones, missing a perfect opportunity to engage in conversation with one another. It makes sense that the less face-to-face time parents have with their children the less opportunity their children have to learn about their parent’s thoughts, feelings, views, and values. Lost opportunities for meaningful guidance and family bonding may come home to roost in the form of children making decisions down the road that contradict the values their parents erroneously thought they were instilling.
Conversations require give and take responses between two or more individuals. For children to meaningfully engage in dialogue with others, they must be taught how to converse effectively. Below are some basic guidelines to help parents and other caregivers teach conversational skills to children.
1. Ensure that infants and toddlers regularly hear others talking and engaging in conversation.
2. Talk directly to infants daily. Make eye contact while talking.
3. As children begin to talk, engage them in age-appropriate conversation daily.
3. Look directly at your child when he/she is talking,
4. Respond to what your child says by asking questions that require elaboration.
5. When dialoguing with your child, do not allow one-word answers to be the norm.
6. Show animation in your voice and face.
7. Teach basic conversational etiquette: - be a good listener
- look directly at the speaker
- do not interrupt
8. Model how to disagree respectfully (ex: “Though I don’t agree with your point of view on
this particular subject, I appreciate your honesty” or “That’s an interesting idea but I
don't think it will work in this situation because_________."
The benefits of technology are many. However, we cannot allow technology to rob our children of other important life skills. In my book, a genuine face-to-face smile, one where I can actually see the sparkle in another's eyes, trumps an emoji any day. Let's resolve to not let the dialogue die!
©Sharon Knapp Lamberth, June 20, 2021