Encourage Teenagers to “speak Before They Send.”

Every time I start to tell my son: “Your words are powerful, therefore …”, he ends my sentence with the words: “… so choose them wisely, I know.” As a writer, I really appreciate the choice of words and the beauty of the language. But what I really mean is this: think before you speak – what you are about to say may hurt someone’s feelings.

Thinking before speaking is a skill that most of us will hone throughout our lives, with some doing better than others. And when the words themselves are typed rather than spoken, it can add another level of disconnection to their impact.

My son is still at the age where he speaks almost all of his conversations rather than texting or texting. But I know these days are ahead, and for a generation of kids who will communicate less with each other in person and more on the Internet, we may have to adjust our advice: think before you type, and speak before you “send.” …

Katie Hurley, child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting educator, writes for the Washington Post that parents can help their teens become aware of how their jokes and responses affect others:

One thing I see over and over again when students share texts with me and chat on social media is the complete lack of empathy and compassion behind the screen. Groups of children target the other child without thinking about how their comments might affect the other child. For many children, even one or two comments can be devastating.

In all fairness, kids teaming up with each other and showing a lack of empathy for their words and actions is not entirely new, and smartphones and social media cannot be entirely blamed for this. But clinical psychologist and author John Duffy tells The Post that “it’s much easier to communicate without compassion and empathy when you’re not looking someone in the eye, when you’re not in their presence.”

It makes sense. Think how many times you’ve read a tweet or commentary on a news article – from a supposedly mature, mature adult – and thought, “You never had the nerve to say that to someone’s face.” We don’t just feel inspired by anonymity. We also feel more emotionally detached from the written words. Unsurprisingly, teenagers do too.

One way to combat this, Hurley writes, is to teach children to read their own messages out loud before they hit Submit. She does this as a real exercise in her office with some of her teenage patients, taking turns reading messages aloud.

When they give me their phone to reread their conversations, they hear their words (and what their friends say) in a real voice. They hear resentment, anger, sadness, or jealousy. They feel emotions differently.

When they read or write words on a tiny screen, they can use emotional detachment to avoid feeling the feelings associated with those words. But when we sit back to back, two people read texts and messages aloud, they absorb emotions. When words are negative, they find it difficult to read them aloud. But when the words are positive, teens soften a little.

It’s unlikely that your teens will want to do this little exercise at the dinner table, but you can still encourage them to develop a habit of reading their words out loud before hitting submit. For example, when they are writing a report for a school or an email to their boss and they have a problem with a specific paragraph or section, ask them to read it out loud to you. Even in such less controversial situations, they will begin to feel the difference between the written and spoken word.

You can also model this behavior for them by practicing it yourself. It might sound like, “Hey, I was going to send this message to Aunt Emily that I’m running late again , but now that I’m reading it out loud, it might sound too harsh. What do you think?”

After all, that doesn’t stop us from developing this habit a little more, too.


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