In my psychotherapy practice, I treat lots of adolescents and their parents. One of the changes I’ve observed over the last five years is how children have become incredibly disrespectful of their parents. I attribute this increased disrespect to the displacement of traditional, human manners with manners learned through technology.
Because technology has taken such a prominent place in our children’s lives, the E-Generation has begun treating their parents and other family members like they treat their computers and smart phones. These manners are based on a blurring of the line between warm-blooded human beings and virtual ones. Some of the beliefs the E-generation has come to possess are as follows:
1. People are easily replaced.
The E-Generation is no longer interested in cultivating deep relationships with other people. Like their electronic devices, they’ve come to believe there’s a “better model” coming along. In addition, with such an abundance of virtual communities and friends to choose from, they feel no need to invest emotional energy in any one person.
2. Relationships are shallow and cryptic.
Our children have become a society of “texters”. In this capacity, people are objects to be dealt with as briefly and as quickly as possible.
3. People are disposable.
An incoming text, email or call breaks off connection with the person we are with and tells them they are not important or valued. While generations before learned to multi-task, the E-Generation has learned to multi-relate. They juggle multiple relationships across the technological spectrum.
4. People are annoying.
Warm-blooded people take too much time and energy. Virtual people are easier to deal with. They don’t require an emotional investment.
5. Quantity is better than quality.
Friendship is no longer about the quality of one’s connection with another human being, but rather the speed with which one can accumulate a multitude of virtual friends.
People do not have digital hearts.
In contrast to electronic devices, people have feelings, intuition and an appreciation for nuanced communication. We derive our sense of well-being and identity in large measure on our interactions with other people. Interactions that are based in mutual respect, empathy and love fill us up. In contrast, interactions that are abrupt, rude and brief diminish our sense of well-being and leave us feeling we’ve received less than we deserve.
How Parents Can Reacquaint Their Kids With Traditional, Human Manners
While I recognize technology’s incredible value, I also recognize its capacity to diminish the respect due to family members. To guard against this phenomenon, families need to reacquaint their children with the following basic manners.
- Insist family members communicate with each other respectfully using “please” and “thank you.”
- Prohibit the use of electronic devices at all meals.
- Children should be required to address their parents as “Mom” or “Dad.”
- Children should address other adults as “Mr.” or “Ms.”
- Parents need to be fully present when talking to their children. They should ignore incoming calls and refrain from checking their smart phones for messages.
- Children should be required to show the same respect to their parents. When their parents are talking to them, children need to put down or completely turn off their electronic devices.
Parents need to teach their children that traditional, human manners are important. Human manners afford us the time and space to be present with each other in a way that celebrates our existence. While we learn a great deal from electronic technology, it will never replace to value of loving family relationships. Technology may enhance our minds, but traditional, human manners enhance our families’ hearts and souls.