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How To Use Dinner To Communicate With Your Teen

I often find myself frustrated with the glaring deficiencies in my teen son's ability to communicate --- what he's saying, what he means, where he is physically at. He says he'll be somewhere when he needs to be picked up but without being a psychic I know beforehand once I arrive he'll be somewhere else, or just not outside waiting for me. His plans with his friends are erratic and sometimes elaborate, constantly changing cluster-you-know-whats. We often play "Who's On First" because he claims he told me something I never heard him utter once. I often find him unaware of things that need to be done because he claims he never got that pertinent voice mail I left or text I sent. Lately, my mustache and goatee has been getting grayer and grayer.

But when I sit down and think about it long enough I really can't blame him. It's the thing that can't be pried from his hand that's mostly to blame for his, mine and nearly everyone else's often nonsensical way of communicating.

The technology of communication --- the very lifeblood that drives this blog --- the thing that came to make communication and connectivity easier, in the ever evolving ecosystem of communications and Social has created massive holes in effective and basic communication. How many times have you heard or said the following:

"Well, I sent him a text."

"I had my phone on vibrate."

"I get no reception in my house."

"I'm on my way. I'm sitting in traffic." (No, you're not.)

What makes all of this possible? That handy-dandy smartphone you're either holding to read this or is within reach beside your computer, right now.

Spending almost 24/7 in social media has transformed the way I process, understand and regurgitate information. Much of it has been positive. My occupation requires that I take in massive amounts of information and turn that around into easy-to-understand terms in a very short period of time. I understand trends and have developed a slight ability to forecast them (even without AT&T's 4G). I can get to the point of almost conversation thrown at me in under 30 seconds and in turn I can listen to people (no matter how long or short they talk) and pull out the meat of what they are really trying to say or wanted to say in the first place. I do this sometimes so quickly that I wonder if I've taken a swan dive off the diving board into a the pool of the awkward savant --- sometimes. Because of this I have established myself as a go-to guy during content-strategy meetings.

But there is a dark side:

I have developed the attention span of a gnat. Sometimes I only process what I want to, overlooking what I might actually need to process, missing key conversation points entirely because I stop listening after I hear what I feel I need to. This is turns has caused me to turn out complete and thoughtful arguments that have nothing to do with anything. And much like cable television's 24-hour news channels, I am almost incapable of powering down unless my body just shuts off wherever I may be --- on the couch, at my desk at home, on the floor next to the puppy. Since becoming Social full-time I literally have to fight the desire to be connected 24/7.

Social Connectivity has also falsified relationships. In this instance I don't mean the people on your social networks who never were and never will be your friend. Here what I'm pointing out is the new belief that sending a text is enough to suffice for checking-in on a friend. Gone are the days of one of my homies calling me on a Saturday morning to go for a drive or wanting to catch a flick or chase after girls (okay, marriage more than anything else has played a major factor in this last point). Families and careers aside we have adopted barely lifting a finger, because all we do is move our fingers across a device, to make sure our friends are still our friends. Most of us figure a weekly, monthly or in some cases quarterly text that says "Hey, what's up man?! How's life?" is good enough.

No, it's not.

There is nothing like the human touch. Nothing. Outside of maybe a Google+ Hangout which I have yet to try, nothing beats actually hanging out and talking face to face. I'm not going to waste my time writing why. If it isn't obvious then you may be spending too much time with your face buried in a HD screen, other than a television, either at your desk or in your hand. Okay, fine. This article will help explain.

Of course you're busy! You have a full time job, your full time job is to look for a full time job, or you are trying to get a new job. You may be married with kids. But so did everyone else who existed pre-social media (ten years ago) and they managed to stay connected in real life. So what was their trick?

The Trick

There is no trick at all. Way back when, 6 or 7 years ago, you had your word and that was it. There was no bailing on plans ten minutes before you were supposed to be meeting someone. There was no going out on your porch to call to say you are stuck in traffic to mask the fact you haven't even left your house. You didn't send a best friend a calendar invite for a hangout and expect to be taken seriously or not be cursed out. You didn't even have a calendar other than the one stuck to your wall with a thumbtack. And if you did follow that calendar you didn't dare break your appointments for fear of being inconsiderate with someone else's time.

Text messaging, Twitter. Facebook. iEverything.

Strangely with the rise of connectivity so too has come the fall of accountability. You can even show up late to a job interview (within reason) as long as you call ahead. Please don't test this, but I do know from experience that it does happen. Your original word doesn't matter at all as long as you send an updated text or a email from your mobile. Damn whether anybody read it because they were waiting for you at a swimming pool or had already turned their phone off because the orchestra was beginning to play.

As adults, many of us are coming to realize we've lost the ability to have sensible conversations and making strides to reverse the behavior, if only on a personal level. But most of our children have no point of reference to do this. And if you don't have kids you might be thinking this doesn't apply to you. Well it does if you take into consideration that that other person's child is going to be in the next generation of leaders (or worse) in society. Can you imagine a society of zero accountability and broken promises? Well, you might if you believe this culture exists now. Can you imagine it getting worse?

It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

When I first wrote this post in March under the title, The Accountability Disconnect, I challenged you the reader to spend more time, face-to-face, with the humans who matter in your world. This time around I'd like you to take the Star Pledge, right here and right now.

Pledge Now to become a Family Day STAR! By doing this, you are uniting with parents all across the country who agree that the parental engagement fostered around the dinner table makes a difference in the lives of their kids!
One of the greatest places for you to reconnect with your kids is at the dinner table. It's your one time during the day where everyone convenes in one place --- to eat. It is where you can hold court. Find what is and what isn't going on in the lives of your kids. And regardless of how they may act, they would much rather eat dinner with you than know they have no one to eat dinner with.  Click here fo the facts behind this claim. This year's Family Day is Monday, September 24th.

You have plenty of time between now and Monday to get set up and prepared for Family Day and hopefully you'll do it more than once. People like my partner in blogging, Brotha Tech, are naturally practicing spending quality family time at the table. If you need an example his is a perfect one.

Please take the Star Pledge. Feel free to ask me any questions here in the comments and I wish you all well at the dinner table next Monday and the rest of the week.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter at @EPayneTheDad.

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