Superior verbal skills give girls the home court advantage on the relationship front, yet they yield to the monosyllabic communication of texting, which boys love. Why are girls willing to put up with a few clipped and abbreviated words and symbols on a screen, when what they really want to do... is talk! By agreeing to text, girls are allowing boys to camouflage their inferior communication skills behind a device. Unfortunately, this dumbed down and inadequate communication invalidates what both sexes really need... connection.
Our first connections and bonding experiences happen as a result of the combination of looking at a human face and hearing the voice associated with that person. We listen for the tone in someone's voice, the cadence, and the subtleties of expression that are conveyed through the simplicity and also the complexities of language. Both sexes bond through language, but the brains of boys are not as attuned to language as those of girls. Girls are
biologically superior at communication. Science confirms this. Of the two sections of the brain responsible for language both are larger in females than in males. Additionally, females process language, in both hemispheres, whereas males typically only process language in their dominant hemisphere. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist and the author of The Female Brain, claims that, according to the research, women talk almost three times as much as men.
It is true that boys and men have always been reluctant to talk, but fortunately for our society, girls and women have been in the vanguard of the communication movement. Tragically, this is changing. In the texting and sound bite culture, girls are also shying away from talking on the phone and even in person. A patient last week shared with me that she was very excited to be hooking up with a boy at her college. However, when she ran into him during the day, she did her best to avoid him. She wanted to spare herself the awkwardness of having a conversation with someone that she did not really know. She was quick to point out the irony, that hooking up was easier to do than conversing. This speaks volumes (but not literally) about
the lack of intimacy in relationships. A 16-year-old male patient told me that he wished he had some kind of teleprompter in his brain that would tell him what to say and would feed him enough dialogue for a continued conversation. He was thrilled about texting because he didn't have to talk.
It is difficult enough to communicate thoughts and feelings in the best of circumstances. It is a terrible idea to reduce something so complex and layered to a few laconic words on a screen. If texting wasn't minimal enough, symbols and abbreviations make communication that much more ambiguous!! Last week I attempted to help my 18-year-old daughter interpret what the little winky face (sent to her by an interested suitor) meant. We spent quite a bit of time drawing assumptions and at the end of our dissection; the winky face meaning was... conjecture at best. Our technologically enhanced communication has ironically reduced us to the Paleolithic era of cave drawings in our attempt to decipher emoticons and abbreviations. I have had teenage patients devote use of their therapy sessions to discuss whether or not to reply to a boy's text with, "ha," "ha-ha" or "lol." Wouldn't it be easier to just laugh with an actual voice? On numerous occasions, I have stood on the sidelines watching my two daughters attempting to deal with sticky situations via text message. At times, I have proposed to them, "Just pick up the phone; wouldn't that be less complicated?" The answer is always "NO," along with an annoyed face that I don't believe can be effectively represented by any emoticon.
Getting to know another person is sometimes uncomfortable, but that is part of the process. Texting does serve to reduce the awkwardness factor. You get to think about a response, solicit advice from friends and craft it perfectly. Although this seems like a comfortable shortcut, the collateral damage is huge! Practicing communication will make you better at it. The importance of learning how to understand and talk about ideas, negotiate conflicts, understand someone's feelings, all get better with practice. Keeping a safe distance, rehearsing and practicing how to relate to a person alone in your room with a cell phone, is the antithesis of the comfortable and attuned contact needed for healthy relationships. All that perfectly scripted text sparring serves to heighten the anxiety of face-to-face contact. The sassy girl with biting sarcasm that came through in a well-thought-out text message, may not be the girl that shows up for a date. Kind of like sending a picture of yourself when you weighed 10 pounds less. Growing is often times about growing through uncomfortable moments, not avoiding them.
If girls do not herald the way for communication and intimacy, it may not survive. Tell your daughters not to let their prowess as superior communicators slip through cyberspace. Lack of use will shrink that natural expression down to a text message, and quickly. Tell them to take back their power, use their words, put their foot down, and demand verbal contact from
boys. Tell them to just say NO to texts!