The Write Stuff
There is a shift happening in my own life, which has enabled me to gain a deeper insight into the world of our young people.
Over the last couple of years, the nature of my work has altered so that I am increasingly using the written word more than the spoken word. The impact of funding cuts to schools and the arts has seen both the storytelling and educational consultancy work markedly reduced, whereas the demand for my input to magazines and the creation of books has increased exponentially.
Almost without noticing, this has had an effect on my day to day communication. As I spend more time writing; thinking carefully about how each word sits in the sentence, the general tone of the piece, it’s level of interest or relevance, I find myself more apprehensive about speaking (especially publicly) off-the-cuff. I can easily tie myself up in knots before an important phone call, and even find myself making notes beforehand - which is a new thing.
This got me thinking about our youngster's relationship to the written and spoken word. I think it’s an important part of the power and attraction of texting and social media that they are able to take the time to sculpt what they want to say - indeed, their whole persona - whereas face to face communication is spontaneous and therefore carries a whole other level of risk.
More than ever, I understand the sense of security it gives a person to have the time to be able to decide what they want to put across, and how, in private, with the freedom to continue editing until it sounds right and fits in with how they would like the world to see them.
It’s not just young people who are drawn to this level of protection of course, but at a time of their lives when they are most acutely aware of their standing with their peers, most prone to self-doubt, its influence is likely to be most acutely felt.
So what do we do for the best?
I think there are two things. Firstly to cut our youngsters a bit a slack, I know it can be frustrating when they constantly have their faces in their phones, but they are finding their way in the world, finding out who they are and how they communicate that to their friends and peers.
Secondly, tricky though it can be, do try to engage your child in actual conversation. Maybe asking them for help with a task or activity that allows chat at the same time but occupies the hands, or take them out to a place that demands their attention, or just ask them a question. Assume a position of relative humility and ask them what they know about a certain thing, what their opinion is or experience of it. In short, treat them like an adult and have an adult conversation.
Over and over I hear young people say they want to be able to talk to their parents more, so let’s take the lead and show them we are interested in them. It might be just the thing to prise them away from their devices and give them more confidence in communicating IRL!