Teaching kids to communicate in the digital age

-Ritesh Rawal, founder, Dudes & Dolls World, Adhyay School, and Ritesh Rawal Foundation

The pandemic has come with its fair share of perks. Among them, bringing families to spend quality time together, enhancing the digital footprint of all cross sections of society and digitalisation of almost every product and service that we use.

However, there was a time, till four decades back, when childhood went by in having family dinners together, sitting together, eating together and opening hearts together. When interactions with family and friends under the stars adorning the clear sky on a summer night were commonplace. Then there were letters one would write to one’s relatives and friends, near and far, to report one’s well-being and ask theirs too. And children were taught how to write letters in various formats – to authorities and to loved ones.

With the advent of technology, especially mobile phones, laptops and affordable mobile data, communication has undergone a sea change. Today a child’s educational, informational, entertainment and purchasing needs are all catered to by technology. Today, chatting doesn’t mean physical conversations. It would mean two people digitally interacting, complete with emojis, stickers and avatars.

The trend of leveraging technology for communication has accelerated during the pandemic where children are confined to their homes, couches and beds, where screens have replaced their school books and digital platforms has replaced classrooms.

The challenge for parents right now is two-fold – where to draw the line for using technology to communicate without offending the child and secondly, bridging the generation gap where parents don’t have as much exposure to digital communication as their children. Then, there’s also the issue of parents having to balance working from home and give digital tools to keep their children occupied.

So, on the one hand parents need to teach their kids how to engage in regular face-to-face conversations and on the other, help them simultaneously excel at digital communication since it is now the need of the hour.

Children should be encouraged to indulge in both forms of conversations with their own parents like a group activity. This can help them develop digital and physical communication etiquette, conversation flow and tackle any challenging situation that emerges. So a fixed time slot during the day to communicate in person and an allocated time for digital interactions would help.

In physical interactions, parents can teach them positive body language like eye contact, cultural variations of non-verbal cues. This means greeting and saying goodbye, use of hands to express themselves better through body language. Parents should teach their children when to shake hands, hug, kiss, pat on the back and how to use gestures for conveying your point better.

The ball is in parents’ court to also keep a tab on their children to observe any behavioural issues they pick up at school or through observation – digitally and physically.

Also, parents must understand that while today’s children are digital natives, they may not necessarily be aware of the good and the bad forms and nuances of digital communication.

Being aware of the websites, apps and the virtual friends their children interact most with can help parents make a true assessment and give proper guidance.

Parents should try to be partners and friends to their children even while communicating digitally. When children observe how their parents communicate and how they react, they mimic the same.

Moreover, a forgiving attitude towards children and empathising with their mistakes can go a long way in shaping their communication skills.

Sound communication – both digital and face-to-face – is considered an essential capability in the 21st century leaders and professionals. Children ought to learn and master both.

Also Read: Teacher-Student Connect Programme: Why it is Indispensable!

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