Updated: Feb 13
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.
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 initiate a face-to-face conversation. When forced to engage, they may respond in short or one-word answers.
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. In their struggle to converse with clarity, they were also unable to interpret facial expressions, voice tone, and body language.
Though not uncommon for preteens and teens to go through periods when dialoging with their parents lessens considerably, if the foundation is there, meaningful conversation can occur - often at the most random times (i.e., riding in a car, at bedtime, shooting hoops in the driveway). Random times open the door for parental wisdom to be imparted at a pivotal moment for the child; wisdom that may prove to be more valuable than either parent or child might realize at the time.
Mealtime is an excellent time for families to engage in conversation. Sadly, in today’s culture, families can be seen sitting in a restaurant staring at their cell phones, missing a perfect opportunity to engage in conversation. The less face-to-face time children have with their parents the less opportunity they have to learn about parental thoughts, feelings, and values. Lost opportunities for meaningful guidance and family bonding may later come home to roost in the form of children making decisions that contradict the values their parents erroneously thought they were instilling.
Now, more than ever, it is important to teach children of all ages not only the value of meaningful conversations but also how to effectively engage in a conversation. Helping children develop conversational skills is a process well worth the investment. An added bonus: Building conversation skills involves building listening skills!
Below is a list of ways to help children develop conversational skills:
1. Start early! Ensure that infants and toddlers regularly hear others talking and engaging in conversation.
2. Talk directly to infants and young children daily.
3. Engage your child in age-appropriate conversation daily.
4. Look directly at your child when he/she is talking and expect the same in return.
5. Respond to what your child says by asking questions that require elaboration.
6. When dialoguing, do not allow one-word answers to be the norm.
7. Teach conversational etiquette (Be a good listener. Look directly at the speaker. Do not interrupt).
8. Model how to disagree respectfully (ex: “I respect your opinion; however, I don’t agree with you on this particular subject,” or “That’s an interesting idea but I
don't think it will work in this situation because_________.").
We owe it to this, and future generations, to ensure that technology does not erode interpersonal communication. In my book, hearing the emotion in another's voice and seeing the sparkle in another's eyes, trumps an emoji any day.
©Sharon Knapp Lamberth, June 20, 2021