Like all teachers and parents of teenagers, I spend a lot of time lamenting the fact that “kids these days” don’t go out and play; they spend all their spare time playing video games. Even on overnights at friends’ houses, the kids appear to be playing more in the parallel play style that you would expect from toddlers – they enjoy one another’s company, but they are just sitting next to each other pressing buttons. All I have hoped for is that perhaps they are developing good fine motor skills, fast typing abilities, and really strong forefingers.
But recently, I have been wondering if I am missing the true picture. Perhaps, the social skills that I think are so very important to success in life are changing. Perhaps, abilities such as recognizing emotional responses in facial expressions will be irrelevant in the near future as more and more people live their entire lives through digital avatars. My particular teaching job focuses largely on helping children to develop their social-emotional intelligence, so this revelation comes at the possible expense of the relevancy of my life’s work.
Outside of mating (for the foreseeable future), people might need a whole different set of social cues and behaviors than the ones I have been teaching. Even conflict resolution may have to be rethought, as people can effortlessly disappear from relationships in conflict and find entirely new social groups to be part of, all without leaving the living room couch.
I don’t think it is up to me to judge that the pro-social skills of previous generations, things like eye contact, smiling and active listening, are more useful than the myriad of emerging social skills needed to successfully navigate a multi-player universe. Trying to get kids to learn socially acceptable body language might be like insisting that they learn how to address envelopes in the email age (something that I learned the other day that most of my 7th graders don’t have a clue about). The old fashioned communication skills that I teach might be doomed to the realm of cursive writing in the keyboard age, something that most schools have already abandoned teaching.
So, I think that maybe we should step back from the fear that by not learning our skills our children will suffer, and pay more attention to the skills that they may actually be using in their virtual friendships, rivalries and love affairs.
Look beneath this flower to find out how children see adults: