I learned an important lesson about online communication during my son’s inaugural parent Little League meeting. 15 years ago, when email was not yet mainstream, our Little League manager warned us that if anyone sent him an email, especially one with a lot of negativity or a threat, we should expect a phone call. He explained that if we were not willing to discuss the matter on the phone or in person, we should not bring it up at all. At that moment and ever since, I felt grateful that this was my son’s manager.
I’ve brought this message to thousands of teens through the curriculum I created for my high school program and the lessons I developed for The DIG Program. When I talk to students about cyberbullying and hate messages that are shared online, I start with a positive spin. I ask how often people send romantic messages or ask each other out online vs in-person. Without any hesitation, there is a resounding, unanimous response: online. They readily admit that it is easier to say anything to anyone online and avoid in-person conversations altogether. This has become normal for them. They have grown up communicating in a world where it is easy to avoid hearing each other’s voices or seeing each other’s expressions.
With love already in the air on this Valentine’s Day Eve, I started thinking more about love messages in cyberspace. Let’s consider the impact of the Internet on our social interactions. It has given us the amazing opportunity to keep in touch with friends and relatives all over the world. It gives us a platform to “say” nice things to those who are nearby and far-away. I noticed this trend shortly after my own millennial children and their friends got their first phones twelve years ago (and they were those first flip phones) in middle school. They were being asked out via text and broken up with via text..
Gone were the pre-telephone days when teens met at the roller rink or pizza place and somehow got up the nerve to sit down next to a potential girlfriend or boyfriend and pursue a relationship. During my teenage years, telephones (the corded, landline type) became more common in homes. Calling someone took effort to “get up the nerve” to dial and chat. Even scarier, was the potential to have to first say hello to a parent albeit without eye contact. And, then, came the advent of personal phones in our bedrooms. Having my own telephone line in my own bedroom eliminated the scary parent chat, making it more likely that he would call.
Fast forward to February 14, 2019 where we can profess our love, en masse, via text and fill our social media feeds with love messages to our friends, acquaintances and even to strangers. It is likely that each of us will get more e-messages of love than we would ever find in our mailbox. That is not a bad thing. Certainly, if our feeds are full of love and void of hate, we will be better off. But, we can do even more.
Let’s all heed my Little League manager’s advice or, better yet, take it one step further. Make the phone call or plan to meet up instead of sending a lone email or text. Let’s use our phones for their original purpose as described by Steve Jobs when he unveiled the original iphone: “combine a phone plus some e-mail capability.”