Do you remember when you were young, and all it took was one look at your mom’s or dad’s face and you instantly knew a) you were in big trouble, and were probably about to be grounded for a year; b) something bad had just happened; b) something really good was about to happen; or c) they were real close to figuring out that it was you who broke Old Man Smith’s window, but they weren’t quite sure enough yet to come right out and accuse you. The most important thing was, they didn’t have to say a word. You read all the signs on their faces. And some of those expressions caused you to either stop dead still, or to make your feet move even faster to safety. To this day, I always look at my mom’s face first. She’s good at covering up not feeling well with a bright and beautiful smile of welcome. But I know that face so well that I can tell in an instant what’s going on with her. All I have to do then is ask the appropriate questions to get the details.
I heard something very frightening yesterday – and at the same time it was extremely sad. One of the counselors I know told me of a study she read that said 25% of our teenagers today are unable to recognize facial emotions on people. Without an emoticon to guide them, they cannot look at the faces of people in the same room and tell if they are frustrated, sad, happy, angry, or even confused. To me, this is appalling. It tells me that the cell phone and texting has become much more important to them than to actually have face-to-face conversations with their friends. Here’s the scary part – they even text each other when they are in the same room, or sitting across from each other at a table. What’s even worse is that their parents are doing the exact same thing.
To some degree, I understand and agree with the necessity and/or convenience of having a cell phone. When we first moved out here, we bought James one, mainly because he would be traveling to and from Shreveport, and some of those trips would be made after dark. If he ever had problems, he could call. And it is nice that Randy can call me while I’m at the grocery store to add something to the list we really need but forgot about, rather than have to wait until I got back home. And I have used it to call him to come up from the back section of our property to hurry home and help with a problem that had arisen – like a calf swimming in the septic tank. But if he called me from the living room while I’m in the kitchen, it would be bad news for him. My one saving grace is that he really doesn’t know how to text, and has no interest in it. I do, however, use both cell and texting for my two jobs – but do my level best to limit it. Besides – I’m a people person. I want to see your face to see what you are thinking.
I also use a computer and the internet. I use it to reach as many people as possible with my website, but I also use it as research. Unfortunately, I’ve done some research at my local library, but they are carrying fewer and fewer books these days – instead, they have computer terminals to ‘look up’ the information you need. I also use it for work – my software programs give me the ability to balance a checkbook, do billing and keep track of our clients. But guess what? Ours at the office crashed about a month ago, and the cost of upgrading the software I use from Windows 7 to Windows 8 is astronomical and cost prohibitive. So what did I do? I started doing it by hand. And I didn’t miss a beat, because I knew exactly how to do it. It has taken quite a bit of time to set it back up, but I have the knowledge – something I’m not sure our teens of today do.
My biggest question to society is, “What are we really teaching our children?” Why are we encouraging them from a life away from people, and pushing them towards a robotic way of life? As a parent, ask yourself if you have taught your child the basics of social interaction, survival skills (and I’m not talking extreme survival – just how to provide their basic necessities), and emotional and mental acuity?
I have a challenge for you. Either completely remove, or severely limit the use of your teen’s cell phone. Set an example and put your own in a drawer. Then take them outside on a nature walk. Talk to them, and try to determine just how much they understand about nature and people. Take them to a restaurant and people watch. Then hand them a piece of paper and a pen and ask them to figure out the cost of the meal, plus tax and tip, before they order. If you give them an allowance, or they have a job, have them keep a record of their earnings and expenses. Have them do a budget. Meet with them in the kitchen and ask them to prepare dinner – from scratch. Give them an assignment to grow at least 10% of the food you will eat over the summer in your backyard. And if they don’t know how to do any of this? Either you teach them or take them to the library and tell them they are limited to the books that are offered to figure it out. Have them join 4-H for a year. Give them a needle and thread and their torn clothing, and teach them how to mend it. Have them bake cookies and then deliver them to an elderly neighbor. And if the neighbor is willing, require them to sit there and visit for at least 30 minutes. The things they can learn from their older neighbors would fill many libraries, and give their minds food for thought.
When you do this, you will more than likely get a ‘deer in the headlights’ look, or even a full-blown temper tantrum, the likes of which you haven’t seen since they were two years old. But stick to your guns. Get their whole body moving, not just their fingers. Exercise their bodies, their brains and their hearts. Teach them compassion, service to others, and to be able to tell at a glance just how someone else is feeling, or getting real close to knowing what they are thinking.
Whether we want to acknowledge and accept it or not, this world is made up of people. We have to interact with them in some fashion each and every day. The more we are able to read facial expressions and body language, the better equipped we are at handling most situations. And if you think I’m being silly or old fashioned, or shake your head and refuse to give up your ‘contact with the outside world’, stop and think a minute. There are dangers in this world, and if you or your children have eyes and fingers glued to a small plastic rectangle, will you or they be able to see the dangers and get away? And worse yet – will they even be able to recognize them if they do see it?
You don’t have to become totally self-sufficient if it’s not your thing. But to live in a better world, it’s time for all of us to recognize the importance of each other, and be ready to step up to the plate and live in this world with people. After all, which is the better joy – staring at a few abbreviated words on a piece of plastic, or seeing the joy on a person’s face when they see you walk into a room and start to speak?