Teaching Our Kids Tech Etiquetteby Risa Green
You may remember that a few months ago I wrote about how my babysitter broke up with me via text message. I thought I was finished with teenagers and their poor tech etiquette, but apparently, this is the new world we live in and unless somebody does something, I’m destined - we’re all destined - to be plagued by it forever.
As a member of my alma mater’s Secondary School Alumni Committee, I interview a few high school seniors in my area who are applying there every year. The alumni interview isn’t a very important part of a student’s application, but it is a way for the admissions office to get a different perspective on a kid, and to make sure that the way they’re presenting themselves on paper reasonably approximates who they are in person.
Anyway, I got my list of students to interview, and I sent them each an email introducing myself and asking them to please contact me to set up a mutually agreeable interview time. They all responded except for one kid, who I didn’t hear from for three weeks. At that point, I sent him another email to make sure he got my first email. Let me point out that my emails were rather formal: Dear so and so, here’s what I need to tell you, blah, blah, blah, I look forward to hearing from you soon, Best, Risa Green. The response I got was as follows: "sorry about the delay [sic.] response. Must have slipt [sic.] my mind. I can do next Wednesday" or something like that.
Okay, seriously? I have to say, I was shocked, both by the poor spelling and grammar and by the total lack of awareness that this was the first impression of himself that he was giving to a) an adult who b) will be reporting back to a college that he allegedly would like to attend. And it just went downhill from there. When I emailed him back to confirm our interview time, his response was: okay, cool. And when he cancelled on me and then changed the time and location of our rescheduled meeting, it was in a text that went - hey, can you do 2 instead? I forgot I have to be somewhere later. I was like, hey? Really? What am I, his BFF?
I will say, on behalf of the generation, that the other kids I interviewed were perfectly appropriate and respectful in their correspondence with me. But the whole experience did get me thinking - is anyone teaching kids today that when they’re emailing people, they do need to be mindful of their audience? In other words, the way you would write to your best friend is not the same way you’d write to, say, I don’t know, someone interviewing you for college? I mean, you’d think that for most kids with half a brain this would be pretty obvious, but I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not to them.
Case in point: I let my daughter get her own email address last year, mostly so that she could communicate more easily with my mom, who lives far away, and with her camp friends, who also live far away. But I monitor it, and a few months ago I discovered that she had been emailing the mother of one of her friends, because the friend didn’t have her own email account. And my daughter was guilty of the same thing. Her emails to this woman contained no greetings, no punctuation, no closings. She just wrote what she needed to tell this woman’s daughter, and that was it. Now granted, my daughter is nine, not seventeen, but still, I realized that this is exactly how it starts.
It was easier for our generation, because for us, email replaced letter writing, so we still approach email much the way that we would write a regular letter, with a greeting, a body, and a closing. But for these kids (and btw, if you want to be depressed, this years’ high school seniors were born in 1994, the year I graduated from college), I think that they are under the impression that email and letter writing are two totally different things. One they learn in school - my daughter spent two whole weeks in second grade learning about the proper way to write a letter - but the other is something they just learn. They get an email account when they’re nine, they email their friends, and there’s no need to be formal. But when they get older, and suddenly they’re receiving email from colleges or prospective employers or alumni interviewers, a.k.a. people who aren’t their friends…well, I guess I can see how the lines might get a little bit blurred.
Anyway, I sat my daughter down and we had a long talk about the difference between emailing a friend and emailing a grown-up. I told her about the kid I was interviewing for college, and how he made such a bad impression on me. And it occurred to me that at some point, maybe it won’t matter anymore. At some point, these kids will be the adults, and most likely, none of them will care about this stuff because they’ll all be addressing each other as hey and writing slipt instead of slipped. But for now, at least, I think it does matter, and apparently, it’s up to us to teach them.