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Andy Braner Headshot

Tweet, Text, or Talk? Decisions for a New Way of Living

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I asked a group of students last week, "How many friends do you have on Facebook?"

One boy answered, "I have 1,200 friends on Facebook."

"Really?" I asked in amazement. I couldn't recall a time in my youth where I would ever have over three to four friends.

"How many of those friends, if they called you, would you answer and talk with?" I asked, fishing for an answer about how many people he really connects with apart from social media.

"Maybe 20," He answered with a big smile confirming his own sense of popularity.

"Of those 20, how many of those friends would actually come over to your house when you're world is falling apart, and just know you needed them?"I pushed further.

"Maybe 2?" He answered.

I knew right then, the definition of friendship has been replaced.

I'm finding more and more teenagers don't have "hang out places" anymore, they've found their tribe of friends on social media and smart phones. Looking someone in the eye is a foreign concept for a new generation of emerging adults.

So I wonder...

Without creating a 'demon in the cell phone' attitude, what is really happening to us as humans? I'm reminded of the Pixar movie Wall-E, where the robot is whisked away to the floating city in outer space where the humans hang out. The ship is full of overweight social misfits who actually talk to one another side by side over a computer screen.

For the majority of audiences, we watched that movie and found it ridiculous that someone wouldn't just lean over and talk to their friend sitting right beside them, but I'm watching our teens evolve into just those people.

Yesterday, I was talking with a group of students and I asked, 'Where do you guys go to just have fun?" And the look on their eyes told me all I needed to know.

Have you ever tried to explain a particular concept to someone and see the 'deer in the headlights' look? It was as if I asked these English-speaking natives a question in Arabic. They had no idea what I was talking about.

"We don't go anywhere with a group. We hang out on our phones. Why would I go somewhere to hang out when I can carry everyone with me in my back pocket?" as he held up his iPhone.

The world has changed. We have decisions to make as parents. Are we going to continue to promote relationships over a computer screen, OR, are we going to intervene and raise a generation that sees the world around them in reality? The friendships made on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are awesome, and I don't want to diminish the value of living in a technological world. But in the same breath, my follow up question is simple: When are we going to provide outlets for our students to engage in face to face relationships?

I had dinner last night with my 14-year-old son, and he told me about a book he was reading. Mind you, this book wasn't on any school list, it was a book he decided to pick up at our local book store that taught him about global events. He took 20 minutes to share with me about the nature of having 160 countries all interacting together socially, economically, and relationally. He defined the U.S. relationships with the East, and began to articulate Middle East politics as it relates to U.S. foreign service.

I left our dinner as one of the most proud moments of my time as a dad. I have a son who is reading, developing conceptual ideas on his own, and articulating those ideas with his father as he speaks coherently about global issues, to my face.

To my parent friends out there: Although the world on social media is useful, don't forget we have to help our kids enter the real world. They need to learn how to draw from their own experiences to talk to people face to face. They need to engage with people and learn proper body language when dealing with hard issues. And for the sake of their future relationships, we need to help them navigate emotional trauma apart from simply texting back and forth.

I love the convenience of technology, but I don't know if my wife is satisfied with simply texting my love back and forth. I think there comes a time when we have to look deep into one another's eyes, and show our spouses how much they really mean to us.

I for one, am proud of our team at KIVU who are dedicated to providing a place where teens can learn the art of being human. We are committed to mentoring students in a technological free zone so they can still live in technology but when called upon they can exist in real time human interactions.

Strange isn't it? The world has shifted so much in the last decade, being human is now an art form?

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