Communicating with Teen Boys in the Age of Technology
When in Rome …
At 9:00 in the morning in the middle of teaching my fifth graders a spelling lesson, I had a revelation that would change the way I parented forever. As with many discoveries that are eye-opening and cataclysmic, this one started from a seemingly banal conversation about the frustrations of parenting. It was on this very morning that my colleague burst into my classroom and announced, “Great news! Timmy has decided that he isn’t going to go to Alfred University in the fall!” Although I definitely detected the droll of sarcasm hanging off each word, I wasn’t quite sure how she wanted me to respond. After all, it had been just an hour before, over our morning cup of coffee, that she had shared the story of her son’s wonderful weekend visit to the college and the excitement Timmy felt over being accepted. How quickly things had changed!
I asked, “How did you find this out?”
“The same way I always find things out,” she quipped, “with a text message.” And to punctuate this fact she flung out her right arm, snapped opened her hand and allowed me to read the brief statement from her son:
“Ma. I don’t think I want 2 go 2 L fred.”
I could truly sympathize with my colleague. We had much in common. Both mothers of 2 teen boys, we often lamented about how we had no idea how to communicate with them effectively. Sometimes I felt that the boys and I were two different species living in completely separate habitats. When it came to communicating with them, I was an elephant, slow, gray and wrinkly, trumpeting my trunk, laboring each day. My boys were penguins, sleek and slippery, able to navigate two worlds, not cold seas and polar ice, but in this case, home and school with a technological ease that far surpassed this elephant’s ability. How could an elephant ever begin to comprehend the world of a penguin? How also could an Antarctic penguin ever fathom communicating with an African elephant?
I empathized with her by saying, “At least your son told you. I am not so sure my teen would have told me at all!” This statement, however, did nothing to assuage her distress. Looking like all mothers do when they are disappointed and frustrated, she threw up her hands and stomped out of my room, but not before leaving me with just one tidbit…a tidbit that would change my parenting life as I knew it.
“Well, just get him a cell phone with texting!” She said. “Teenage boys are better at faceless communication. Timmy proved that today!”
And there it was, “faceless communication.” Maybe she had something there. Perhaps this was the answer to my communication problem with my sons. Were they more apt to talk to me if it was through an email or in a text? I decided to test my theory.
At the end of the school day, I picked up my cell and text this message to my 16 year old:
Me: How was school today?
Much to my delight and surprise this is what I got back:
Aidan: Gr8. I got 2 dance w/ Jane in gym. (The girl’s name has been changed to protect Aidan’s ego.)
After deciphering the mystery language, I grinned from ear to ear. This was HUGE. His answer not only wasn’t the word “fine,” which seemed to be the only word in his dictionary lately, but I ACTUALLY got two details (a gold mine!) into his life. With his answer I now knew:
- He was dancing in gym. (But more importantly)
- He liked a girl.
Those details felt so good, I was greedy for more. Treading lightly, not wanting to scare away the sleek penguin standing in front of me, I decided that there should be no sudden movements. So I texted back a question trying to sound as uninterested as I possibly could.
- Me: Oh. Is that good?
I immediately received this response.
- Aidan: Yeah. But I have to see her n Spanish cls 2moro. How should I act?
I have to admit, with this response I felt like I won the lottery. I mean, here I was meandering in the corridors of Aidan’s maze-like mind, AND the maze keeper himself was asking my opinion. I was giddy. The rest of the conversation went something like this:
- Me: If I remember correctly, high school girls don’t like it if boys try too hard. Just give her a casual “Hey.” (Alright, alright, I use proper grammar even when texting. I mean I AM a teacher.)
- Aidan: K. Thx. ttyl. (For those of you who aren’t fluent in text abbreviations that means “Okay. Thanks. Talk to you later.” Now you don’t have to look it up like I did!)
Since this enlightening conversation was longer than any other conversation that we’d had in months, I decided to become a student of the technology that my boys use on a daily basis. For each fad or gadget I studied I’d find a way to use it to connect with my oh-so-elusive boys. I now have my own Facebook page that allows me to “message” them or chat in an instant way. I use their email accounts to send them lists or information that they may need to keep for the long run–like the high school final exam schedule I just sent off to Aidan. I have even learned about some of their favorite video games so that we have things to chat about. (You’d be amazed how many life lessons I can wring out of “Call of Duty!”) By understanding the boys’ techno-world a little better, I am able to use it to my advantage when it comes to communicating with them. To think-an elephant communicating effectively with two penguins! Someone call the San Diego Zoo!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.