Beyond Texting: A New Book Urges Teens to See Beyond the Cell Phone

June 25 2014, 3:00 PM

Ask someone out on a date. Tell the coach you want more playing time. Convince your parents you have earned a later curfew. We've all had to have these interactions face-to-face, but many of our kids haven't. In Debra Fine's latest book, Beyond Texting: the Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers, she points out that as more of our chatter stays on the screen instead of in-person conversations, kids and teens are missing out on opportunities to learn how to speak to others and absorb cues like body language. For example, it is rare that a teen finds asking a classmate out on a date an easy move. Today, they can ask from behind the safety of a tiny screen. They aren't forced into face-to-face communication. In fact, they can avoid it at all costs. "If teens don’t get to practice [communicating], how are they supposed to figure it out?" Fine says. 

Beyond the basic awkward adolescent situations, Fine points out that communication tools sharpened when dealing with "bosses" (teachers, coaches, and even parents) during youth are particularly crucial when interacting with real employers in the future. From discussing a disagreement on a grade to showing initiative with a coach, teens are gathering the baseline knowledge to manage themselves in a more mature, personal, and professional situations. "The number one thing is that teens own the responsibility to interact," Fine says. "It’s up to them to go up to the coach. It’s not about schmoozing, but also not being invisible." Right now, they may be interested in staying out late or getting more playing time, but more importantly, building the confidence to put the phone down and speak up is training for the real world. 

Here are five tips Fine says that every teen should know:

  • Prepare for face-to-face teacher meetings, dates, interviews, and school events. Know your audience and be able to hold a conversation. 
  • Build social opportunities without the use of social networking sites. Movies, bonfires, Rockies games. You know, asking what your peers are doing for the weekend, and make plans without using a Facebook invite. 
  • ​Avoid "turning conversation into a competitive sport."
  • Be aware of the importance of body language, eye contact, and tone—the pieces that aren’t transferred in a text, no matter how many emoticons you pile in. 
  • Recognize when your online involvement is interfering with your offline existence. If you miss an entire concert with your best friend because you're having #timeofmylife #favband #itsreallyloud, you really just missed it all.  

Follow editorial assistant Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.