The texting generation

By Mir
August 14, 2012

So, I have a confession to make: Today’s post of mine over at Feel More Better, about how today’s teens text more than they talk, is a little more grumpy than it seems on the surface.

Yes, I’m wondering about the parallels between what they do now, and the note-scribbling, constant-phone-talking existence I led as a teen. Sure.

But really, deep down? What I was thinking about when I wrote it is that Chickadee’s received exactly two contacts from friends since her hospitalization: One lengthy letter from a lovely young woman who also emails to ask me how she is, and one card from a friend whose mother probably made her do it. That’s IT. Because if they can’t text or email someone, they pretty much cease to exist. And that… kind of sucks. Though Chickie herself tends to feel that way, too, so it’s possible I’m more bothered by it than she is.

Does it mean today’s teens are less connected, or does it mean I’m just being oversensitive? Come weigh in because I honestly have no idea.


  1. Little Bird

    Some people, kids in particular, just don’t know what to say to a friend or family member that is sick. They feel awkward and then that makes them embarrassed, and they really don’t want to be embarrassed so they ignore the whole thing. Yeah, it’s rude. It’s insensitive. It’s downright selfish. But it’s also THEIR hang up, and is no reflection on how much they like Chickie.

  2. Kim W.

    Just last night my 12-year-old was close to tears explaining that, since I take his phone away so often, he’s unable to contact his two friends who are both out of town on summer vacations.

    I was trying to be a good listener, so I didn’t suggest that he pick up the land-line phone.

    (I think it’s a pretty sad state of affairs these days.)

  3. Missy

    Well my daughter had her texting taken away and was almost completely isloated by her friends. When I found out a group of them go together to go to a highschool game and she wasn’t invited I asked her why. She stated that “Mom, you took my texting away”. I said they could have called you and asked you to go and she stated that they would never do that. Pretty sad if you ask me.

  4. Sandra Tayler

    You’re discovering which of Chickadee’s friendships are proximity friendships and which are long-term boundary crossing friendships. There is nothing wrong with proximity friendships, they are real and true, but they end when the proximity does. I read a fascinating article about this the other day. It is talking about acting friendships, but it can also explain why most people don’t keep in touch with high school friends or neighbors once they move away.
    You would like Chickadee’s friends to keep in touch so that she can more easily transition from the life she is currently living back into a life resembling the one she had before. I hope that at least a couple of friends will be around to help with that. I really do.

  5. mamalang

    I posted over there, but I needed to comment here specifically about the Chickie situation. You’ve already received some good comments here, but I wanted to add that I don’t think it’s just the fact that kids today don’t communicate via written word (versus typed) anymore. I think it’s probably more than that. They may not know how to send her a letter (maybe they aren’t sure if they should send it to her home address or not?) and they may really not know what to say. Even adults have this problem, and it stops us all from doing the right thing sometimes. I’m glad she had at least the one letter, and I hope she transitions back as painlessly as possible.

  6. liz

    I have a suggestion, which is that you give her friends’ parents some stamped postcards with her address on them and ask them to “text” her using them.

    Some will, some won’t. But the ones who haven’t been sure what to do or how or whatever will get a kick out of it.

  7. Kristin

    I have an 18 year old girl. Graduated high school. Hmm…are they less connected? Yes, in a way. They are so way OVERconnected in such a superficial way, as in having 503 Facebook friends and a phone contact list longer than all the days they’ve lived on the planet. I think, my opinion, they have way too many shallow friendships that they haven’t really got the solid ones of yore. Remember when you and your best friend had a fight and you felt lost and alone? Yeah, not so much these days, it appears. You have a fight with your best friend and you text one of your 503 other friends. DEPTH – that’s the word I was looking for back there. So one of your friends disappears and oh well.

    The other thing though….when one of your friends goes off the deep end, and you can’t empathize, teens are no different than the rest of us who balk at uncomfortable situations. We shy away at the unknown.

    And then sadly, and this is going to hurt, most of Chickie’s friends can’t drive themselves to visit her, right? So they rely on a parent, right? And even though I’d like to think I’d be all “of course honey”, let’s face it, I might be more like “uh, take you to the hospital to see your mental friend?” Although I’m really hoping, based on previous teen angst experience, that I’d do the former.

    Ugh, I feel for you and your family. It’s not just rough times now, but life is bumpy. Your bumps are going to be a bit different, I’m afraid.

  8. Mandy

    Damn, Kristin. I wish you hadn’t said that. We may not always know the right words to say, but we can surely avoid saying hurtful ones.

    Hugs, Mir!

  9. Mir

    Eh, Kristin’s right. No biggie. Chickie can’t have visitors outside of the family (and she’s 90 minutes away, anyway) so visitation isn’t an issue. I do believe that given her multiple hospitalizations there are quite a few parents telling their kids that it’s time to distance themselves from her, and y’know, it’s upsetting, but not surprising.

  10. dgm

    I really like liz’s suggestion to offer Chickie’s friends stamped postcards, making it easier for them to write even just a quick note. It would probably mean a whole lot to Chickie. Yes, this is a texting generation, so it might not even occur to them that there is an alternate way to communicate. They might actually think it’s kinda cool!

    And, as others have said, many of the friends might be at a loss for words, so you might even suggest that it would be enough just to say “thinking of you!” or to ask them to give a little update on what’s happening in their llves. I think the important thing is for Chickie to still feel connected.

  11. Bryn, Anglesey, UK

    This may be a silly question, but is there any medical (or other) reason for Chickadee not to have a cheap entry-level non-camera cellphone with a few dollars prepaid credit on it? Set up to allow calls to pre-set numbers only, text to pre-set list only, secured by ALL the PIN settings that phones have these days, and capable of being disabled by you if stolen?

    If there is good reason then so be it, but if it’s just “hospital policy” for the hospitals convenience then maybe it’s worth trying for an exemption – if you think it’s advisable.

  12. Mir

    No phones allowed (she has access to a phone for calling family at sanctioned times), program policy. That’s pretty standard procedure.

  13. Christina

    I like the post card idea, although Chickie might feel it is contrived (even so, I’m sure some glimmer of “they care” would make it through!). Is there any way there could be a “project” that the group could work on? Maybe something like a progressive story, or mad libs if that’s too hard to organize. Something to get over the hump of figuring out what to say.

    Big hugs to you all!

  14. Laurin

    I replied over at feelmorebetter, but I wanted to say that I also really like Liz’ idea of the postcards. It’s novel enough (to teens, anyway) that you’ll probably get a bunch of friends to send her the postcards.

  15. Andrea L

    Could you set up an email account (like hotmail, or some other free accout) that her friends could text and email to, that you have the login information for? Then you could print out the emails (while assuring her that you weren’t reading them, of course) and take them to her. Then she could hand write responses, which you could type up and send. Kind of a clunky work around, but if it keeps her from feeling so isolated and makes it easier for her friends to keep in touch then maybe it’s worth a try.

  16. Aimee

    I like the postcard suggestion, and Andrea’s suggestion, immediately above. I know there’s a chance that some of her friends just feel awkward and don’t know what to say, but I also know that we are an increasingly ruder and less considerate society. There really is a lack of courtesy and basic good manners, and that may have something to do with it too.

  17. diane

    I am a grown person (let’s say 30’s and leave it at that) and I have a friend who can only communicate through Facebook mass private messages and texts. It is bizarre and upsetting to me.
    I was raised to always have a card on hand in case you need to send a nice note to someone, and I still keep that stash just like Mom always did. I fully intend to raise my children the same way, but yeah, they’ll probably just end up as social pariahs for bothering with a kind gesture. My college roomie still has all of the letters I sent her during the summers–can’t tell you how much that means to me.

  18. Cayte

    I think your Chickie is doing pretty well, friends-wise: lots of kids she hangs out with because they’re nearby (“proximity friendships” is a new — but perfect — term to me), just a handful that she really “clicks” with and keeps in touch with long-term.

    I’m now 30, and have moved several times since high school/college and that’s pretty much my pattern — im still close to 2 friends from grad school (oddly, one of whom I wasn’t that close to when we were in grad school… Got closer post-graduation), my bff from undergrad, one from the summer I worked in Houston, a couple from undergrad and when I worked in Dublin, etc.

    (not sure if it makes you feel any better, but I was in a similar locked-up hospital when I was 19 — and many of my “friends” turned out to be really just acquaintances… My now-BFF from undergrad was the exception. She came to visit. She called every hospital in town to find me when I was first hospitalized. She grovelled to the night nurse so that she could talk to me on the phone, since I wasn’t allowed to make outgoing calls. Sent care packages. Took me out on 4 hr passes once I was allowed to leave the building. Kept my parents — who lived 1200+ miles away — in the loop on how I was doing. I love love love my BFF… and it sounds like your Chickie has a few good ones too!!).

  19. Jessica

    Lots of things going on with my oldest niece that I can’t really go into, but my sister (her mom) shut off her phone to spite my niece when she was placed with my uncle. She (unfortunately for all involved) is now back at home with my sister, but isn’t allowed to call us on the phone. Imagine my surprise when she started writing me letters over the summer (no access to email either). Several years back, I had purchased her some special stationery just for her and put forever stamps on the envelopes, but she had never used them…because she never needed to. She could always call or text or email.

    I’m very grateful for these letters, because I think knowing your loved ones’ handwriting is a lost art. (I can still fondly recall my own grandmother’s handwriting and recognized it immediately when I saw a recipe of hers slipped into a book that my mom and dad gave me.) My handwriting is atrocious due to some hand and wrist problems, but I still take the time to actually write out a letter back to my niece, because I hope that makes her feel more connected to me that something that’s typed. I hope she can feel my love and support for her through those letters, in any small way.

    I do think that people don’t seem to have as deep of relationships anymore, once they are uber-connected online. It seems that they think that if someone “falls by the wayside” there is always someone else somewhere (text, Facebook, Twitter) who is willing to make them feel better about themselves, deserved or not. One of my greatest friendships is someone that I can be point-blank honest with (and she with me), knowing that if I say something she doesn’t want to hear, she’ll take time to cool off, think through what I said, and come back to have a discussion about it. I don’t see that happening with the majority of kids these days, and it makes me sad.

    Seriously, I quit blogging and refuse to have a Facebook account due to several people that I thought were good friends (and used to be at one point) telling me that they only had time to keep up with me via their blog or Facebook (meaning I had to go to their blog to read their life updates instead of actually hearing about, say, the birth of their son even in an email or something more personal than a public blog post). After telling them that if my personal (not bulk) emails or phone calls couldn’t be returned then I couldn’t be expected to keep chasing them down the one-way road that their friendship had become, I received a bunch of flack from others in our group about how busy everyone is these days, so sometimes blogging and Facebook is the way that friends can keep up. That’s fine and all, but that’s not friendship. Not to me. And I was at the point in my life (several years ago) that I really needed my true friends, not just some people who wanted an audience for their blog. I mean, I’ve read memoirs before, but I didn’t consider myself a close, personal friend of the author, you know? (This may be the issue that you’ve mentioned before that people think they know you because of your blog. I kept reminding those friends that I wasn’t my blog, and my blog most certainly wasn’t all, or even most, of me.)

    [Ack, sorry for the long comment, Mir. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here.]

  20. katiefleck

    My twins just lost their cell phones due to some inappropriate video chatting with a couple of strange boys (“but but they are friends of friends!” NO! I do not know them, they are strangers.) And the next day, a mom of one of their girl friends called and asked, “are the twins okay? Daughter was texting them and they didn’t answer.” It’s kinda weird that the mom called me instead of the daughter calling the twins on the home phone? I don’t know. The twins have also lost their facebook pages (I wasn’t a ‘fan’ of them having one at 13 years old anyways, ha) and computer time if it isn’t for school.

    So yeah, this discussion of how teens can’t communicate without their cell phones has been a hot topic around here lately.

  21. Amy Bliss

    I definitely think that texting is the new form of note writing. My oldest has been grounded from his phone multiple times, but he hasn’t missed it after the first couple of weeks. Instead, he’s appreciated the ability to disconnect and have some time to himself.

    I think it’s sad that kids don’t write to Chickadee in any other way. Email is still there and print is definitely there. I think it’s important to teach kids about both. If she’s feeling left out, she can ask them to call the home phone or email her? I’m not sure what your rules are.


  22. Chris


    While I don’t know how it will be when Chickie tries to reconnect with her friends, I would also not read too much into the limited contact to date beyond the fact that it is no longer the norm for teens to write. I say this coming from a house where I still make my teenagers write thank you notes but they only sent one “forced” letter to best friends at away at camp for 7 weeks. To me that is odd but having seen it happen other summers the girls pick right back up in the fall with no issues.

    I would send an email to chickie’s friends (and maybe cc the parents) with her address and a brief note that she would love to get a letter even if short. While the postcard idea is easier, my 14 year old would be against since it would mean I could read her note before it goes out!

  23. Mary

    I’ve personally learned over the past several months that this is absolutely not a teenager thing! I had surgery seven weeks ago and have had lots of time to think about just what a friend is. Someone you’ve known for 15+ years but hasn’t picked up a phone to see how you’re doing or at least sent a card? Nope! That person that spent a great amount of time at your home while recovering from cancer and needing to “get away” from their own home? Apparently not. The one you tracked down through a near-stranger on FB when she had pneumonia because you couldn’t reach her any other way? Not her, either.

    I’ve had several close family members in and out of hospitals/rehabs over the past several months and have learned that family isn’t always much better. Your father is quarantined in a rehab with shingles AND YOU HAVENT VISITED??? SERIOUSLY???

    I look around at the many cards I have received and I smile. I don’t do nice things for people because I expect the same in return, but I will certainly reduce my stress levels going forward NOT worrying if I’ve done enough for some!

  24. Laura

    Sometimes letters and cards from strangers can do as much good as those from real-life friends.

    We had a friend who had a child in a rehab unit for six months once (no phones and a bunch of other stuff not allowed) and we set up a caringbridge site where all of the internet friends she had, the ‘real’ friends she had- and our friends who knew- could send emails of support. Mom would then print them out (screen for the crazies) and bring them in to her when she visited.
    It helped her a LOT.

    Just a thought?

    Hugs to you.

  25. Valerie

    Through the summer I thought about how difficult it might be to reenter regular life after an absence. Between perceived differences and real differences in the responses of others, a teenage girl hitting high school would likely have a tough transition. Just when the waters need to be smooth, storms roll in. I think it is pretty remarkable that you are accepting that, marking it, and moving on. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, but it is what it is.

    Breathe in, breathe out. Every damn day. So glad you make such good lemonade.

  26. Brigitte

    There’s also the possibility that it just doesn’t occur to them. In high school, my friends and I were classmate pals with boy with cystic fibrosis, but it never occurred to us to try to contact him over the summers, or when he’d be out of school for weeks at a time. Maybe we were just shallow, but it seemed everyone in our school was that way.

    It’s been 30 years, but I still get sad that he died the summer before senior year.

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