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Mobile Phones - Do They Negatively Impact Teen Communication?

By Susan Whelan - 10th January 2012

I recently came across a blog post about the potential for mobile phones to weaken kids’ conversational skills. The post at the 21st Century Fluency Project (originally posted by Katherine Bindley at Huffington Post) talked about the positive and negative influence of mobile phones and technology in general on the ability of children and teenagers to communicate effectively.

The topic caught my eye as my 12-year-old son was going to be receiving his first mobile phone for Christmas. The whole purpose of the phone, from my point of view anyway, is to aid communication. I want it to be easy for my son to contact me if he misses a bus or has any other major dramas on the way to and from school. I am anticipating that I will receive texts about minor dramas and outright trivialities as well, especially in the first heady weeks of mobile ownership, but the phone is primarily to aid my peace of mind as he travels to and from school.

I think that the article made some valid points about the way mobile phones can be detrimental in developing good social skills. I’m also sure, however, that I heard my parents talking about the inability of teenagers to communicate effectively when I, myself, was a teen, which was some time before mobile phones made their appearance. I think they may have blamed the television. I’m sure my grandparents made similar complaints, although I’m not sure what appliance they held responsible for their uncommunicative teens.

Talking with my children has always been a priority for me. We’ve always chatted about all sorts of things, from the mundane to the mind blowing, and I’ve encouraged them to both ask questions and actively listen to answers – both important conversational skills to my mind. We chat in the car, at the dinner table and whenever we are out and about together. I like to discuss, debate, deliberate and generally waffle on about things and as a result I’ve encouraged my children to do the same. Without their input, I’m just some crazy lady talking to myself all the time, so it has been very important to me that they join in the conversation as often as possible.

Perhaps this is why I’m not too concerned that my son’s mobile phone will stop him developing conversational skills. His skills are already quite well developed and I hope his phone, while not helping him to learn how to read body language and make eye contact, will aid other aspects of his social development.

I’m hoping that if we put some rules in place early on (no mobile phones at the dinner table, in bedrooms overnight, no interrupting conversations to check text messages), our experiences over the coming months will be largely positive. I’m also reviewing the way I allow technology to intrude into our family time and thinking that it is time for me to make sure that I am leading by example if I want my children to use mobile phones and other technology as tools to improve not hinder effective communication.

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