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.
LOVED IT! What a great idea for keeping in touch with your son. I am going to try to remember that as my little ones get older. My little guys are still eager to share everything in thier world with me. God only knows what forms of communication I will need to master in another 10 years.
This one definitely made me smile. It is amazing to me how most of my students (fifth graders) have cell phones (ones way nicer than mine, mind you!) and Facebook acccounts. Recently, I was FB chatting with a friend and she was texting her son while he was in the same room with her as she chatted with me. Apparently, this is a common occurrence. I am all for communicating in any and every way with my children, and am sure that I will some day be at this juncture with my little ones. My six year old peers over my shoulder now while I make plans for play dates with his best friend’s mother, and sometimes uses my FB chat to talk with my dad. This is their world!
I have been reading books lately on the topic of boys and literacy and they hammer the fact that we should absolutely use these forms of communication and acknowledge them. One author suggested that this IS the form of communication for teens, especially boys, and that lessons for writing should be designed to tap into this medium. This had a great deal to do with comfort levels and the volume that students can write using this communication. It was interesting food for thought. I am sure that as a mother and a teacher, I can use this to tap into soliciting things from my students.
Another fantastic article Logan! Keep them coming! What great reading, I hope more fathers in the world read it as well.
What a brilliant insight on today’s changing world. Often times we forget that our children are living an entirely different lifestyle than we did. Although I don’t have any children of my own I am often amazed at what sort of conversations I can have with my classroom students through email and through online postings of their work. They are more at ease with this indirect conversation. Do I feel this is a great thing for our world? No. But is it something we need to pay attention to? Absolutely. Another great article. So looking forward to reading more.
Great article. While I would prefer conversations when I can see their eyes, let’s accept technology as another avenue into keeping tuned into our kids lives. I also wonder how soon we should get a cell phone for my daughter who is now 10 (her friend just got one, so she is asking). I’m thinking as we allow her more independence it will be good to have, just need to set some limits on use. Would love to hear from others about what age worked for them.
Oh how I can relate! I believe that texting is the modern day intercom system. It’s so bad in our house that we ‘text’ from different rooms… my most recent favorite was from big dude… in the bathroom… requesting more toilet paper. As a mom, I’m trying to go with it- and like you, I’m just thankful that their texts prove they still need me… even if it’s just for tp!
I loved this article. As a counselor to kids, I say go with whatever gets them talking! Kudos to you!
Great column!! Drew is only 9 and I am already getting the “fine” answer. The question is what is an appropriate age for a cell phone?
I can definitely relate to your column. My oldest daughter is 14, and that phone never leaves her side. I got texting for both of our phones last winter, and I have gotten a lot more information than I would have normally. As a teacher, though, I do see a downside to texting. Many teens have little to no idea how to carry on a face-to-face conversation. This worries me a bit for their future. However, for now, I’ll enjoy the “faceless communication” that I have with my daughter, because at least we have communication.