Walking through high school hallways today is much different than walking through them 25-30 years ago. Back then, kids met at their lockers to chat between classes, got in trouble for passing physical notes in class and joined sports, political, social or musical groups to interact with each other on a common interest level. There were no cell phones, there was no texting, “ROTFLMAO” or “OMG”-ing, Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare. Kids today live in a 24/7 networking bubble. Check any high school kid’s Facebook account and you will likely find hundreds to thousands of “friends”. While it’s true that the kids probably don’t even know half of the people in their accounts, they “friend” them anyway with the assumption that the connection will somehow benefit them. They get it. They can “network” in their sleep.
By contrast, check the Facebook accounts of their parents and teachers who are likely to have far fewer “friends” and much less chatter within the accounts. The reasons might range from adults having more discernment, not understanding the technology, or simply not being very effective at networking. Adults may use other methods of social networking, such as trade shows, charity events and/or online sites like LinkedIn. Adults are more likely to carry business cards with them and pass them out at every opportunity.
Teaching these skills to high school kids may round out and break off some of the rough edges of teenage social networking, and possibly dissuade the crudest forms of their communication, but it isn’t likely to stop it. Online networking and texting has replaced the “Dear Diary” of years past. It wasn’t likely that a course teaching you how to write in your diary back then would benefit teens any more than teaching a course in social networking today would.
Some might suggest that it is for these reasons that a course should be taught in school. Proponents of courses in high school might argue that many potential employers check these sites to see what the candidate is all about. Courses in face to face networking, as well as, technology based networking could teach social etiquette and the do’s and don’t’s of navigating social interactions. Emphasis could be placed on what future employers can find out and how to maintain a positive public image.
These are good arguments; however, to teenagers who lack the ability to foresee the future beyond their friends’ plans for the weekend, it could also be argued that money would be better spent teaching courses in school that they could actually benefit from. For example, it is a sad state of affairs that most high school students leave for college with no idea how to balance a checkbook, do banking or manage money. Courses in simple money management, banking, credit and investing and business would be more beneficial. Many teens have the example of their parents pulling out credit cards every time they go to a store. They are under the assumption that this “magic money” just appears for any whim, and payments can be deferred. With the current state of the economy, it’s apparent that somewhere along the line, these basics were not learned. One student took his father’s car for the first time to get gas and had no idea how to pump the gas or pay for it. Basic day to day operations are taken for granted, yet any high schooler can probably text faster than most adults can talk.
The average teenager’s brain does not fully develop until well into their twenties, specifically the portion of the brain that supports judgment and discernment. What teenagers need today are strong leaders and role models and the most likely candidates for these jobs are their parents. Parents need to be the ones who teach their kids acceptable moral behaviors, and must be willing to model them in their own lives. Children learn more by watching behaviors than they do from verbal corrections. If teens have watched their parents care for neighbors, treat clerks at the store with respect, exercise control with their tempers when they encounter people in the public realm who “screwed up”, stay off of the cell phone while in the post office and other public areas (or when dealing with someone face to face), cheer for their teens during sporting events (and don’t scream and carry on when the team loses), the teens will have success in their networking relationships. By contrast, if they witness the opposite of good behavior from their parents, they are likley to model the same behavior and no amount of high school course teachings will correct bad behavior prevalent in their households.
Modern society is an “always on” culture of 24/7 news, social networking, shopping and on demand this and that; yet, society as a whole has become more disengaged and despondent. Online networking sties and texting are fast replacing face to face contact. We would all do well to teach our kids to unplug from time to time and reconnect with themselves first, then others. There is something much more rewarding in riding a bike over to a friend’s house than firing off a 6 second text message. The former requires an investment of time, the latter doesn’t require much of anything, but sore thumbs.