Multiple Emojis

Children Need Emotion Not Emojis

Like so, so many others, my father’s death while I was still a teenager was tough; it left a big, gaping hole in our family.

Little things now stand out, like Mum trying to understand the bills that came in, and manage them.

Bigger things like school and university graduations, and later on weddings and children, my father’s grandchildren.

What made it really hard – more than anything – back then was the reaction of a small number of my friends who didn’t know what to say, and so they didn’t say anything. And that broke my heart.

This week, I had cause to tell my daughter that. Conversation is so important. And it’s different to connection on Instagram or text or email or anything else.

A smile, in person, will beat an emoji any time. So will a hug. And a simple: “Are you OK?”

This generation of teenagers lives in a social media world. They learn on computers, upload their homework, read news online, set up a date via an app, and post their formal dresses on Insta.

Talking is not necessary. And you can see how that’s role-modelled by us every day for them.

We can now book an Uber and reach a destination without saying a word.

Dining out is out, and dining in, thanks to Uber Eats or Deliveroo, is in.

We don’t have to talk to a bank teller, because the ATM means we don’t have to walk inside a bank.

Our discussions with the school are done via email and no one wants a hand-delivered resume from a 15-year-old looking for an after-school job. “Just upload it love, and we’ll be in touch.”

Applying for a blue card? Go online. An aged-care spot? Fill out the forms, and leave your email.

Grocery shopping? It’s faster through the self-service checkout.

What’s the impact of that? One father told me he could hear the difference in how his two sons spoke.

One, who scraped through school before social media took over his world, talks in sentences, few acronyms, and even pauses where the full stop goes on a page.

His younger son speaks faster, with more letters than full words, and one sentence quickly races into the next. “And the only thing I can put it down to,” he says, “is social media. That’s how they converse.”

That’s not necessarily bad, is it? English changes.

Shakespeare, for many children, is less relevant than an ability to read Google Maps.

But what about the lack of real and genuine connection?

How do we navigate friendships and differences?

How do we understand that there’s a place for online talk, and a place for face-to-face talk?

That how something is delivered is as important as the message in the delivery.

Touch in a baby’s development and connection to others has been shown as crucial over and over again.

Why would it be different as our babies turn into children, and then into teens?

The smartphone has been fabulous for connection. But we shouldn’t pretend it competes with a human touch.

Photograph of Madonna King

Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. An award-winning presenter of 612 ABC Brisbane, she has authored 12 books and now works across radio, television and online.

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