By Debby Shulman
A couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t sleep. Allowing a student to get in the way of a binge episode of “Game of Thrones”, my phone kept beeping during critical moments of our favorite show. Jon Snow was in a tight spot. I love Jon Snow and The Husband was not pleased by the interruption. And I get it – when we sit down to finally relax at night, he hates the sound of the bleeps and rings, but with one of my own away at school and knowing my students work all hours of the night – I leave my phone on until 10 p.m. Just in case.
A symptom of what is known as the iGeneration.
Texting, as we all know, is a really screwed-up technological phenomenon, born quickly from advances that seem to move at lightning speed. While it proves a reliable service more often than not, we all are sick of our teens spending hours looking down at their phones rather than engaging in what is going on around them. No question it comes in handy at very critical moments, and we are all guilty of relying on the text to communicate conversations that should have warranted a phone call. But when texting came along, there wasn’t a manual for teens that accompanied it – so at times I feel that intention gets lost in translation. And while I can appreciate that misunderstanding …
I am forever explaining to my teens that there is no such thing as a ‘sarcastic font.’ But what happens when our teens text adults … teachers, tutors and coaches?
My pings and beeps were coming from a student, and for the first time ever there was nothing ‘lost’ and nothing ‘misunderstood.’
He was being rude. Repugnant. Spoiled.
Remember teaching your little ones manners? Say please, say thank you, look that person in the eye. Drumming it in their heads that speaking politely to teachers, other parents and adults remained an expectation in place at all times. Shake hands, speak respectfully to waiters, waitresses, wait your turn.
The personal and emotional void that texting provides leave plenty of room for rude.
And, some parents rightfully assume their teens are texting in the same polite manner as they would if they were speaking. And they have every right to believe this! Admittedly, this was the first instance I had ever experienced in which a student was speaking – texting – in a rude manner, with a petulant font and obnoxious tone. And this snide young man was disturbing my heart-stopping moment with Jon Snow and a nice evening with The Husband.
I should have turned off my phone, I should have left it alone, I should have thrown it across the room. But I was baited and hooked and he reeled me in.
I actually let myself get sucked into a text war of sorts, sparring with an insolent 17 year old who wasn’t getting what HE wanted, when HE wanted it and how HE wanted it to be done.
Texting presents the next wave of impersonal, iSelfish, one sided, totally screwed up interpersonal iCommunication. We have all read stories and studies about the frequency of texting among teens – they no longer call or speak in person– they even fight via text – can they have sex via text?? And as a horrible and obvious result, they have not developed the art of conversation. The beauty of discourse has been lost on our teens’ iGeneration, so how do we handle this? Just ignore it and assume they’ll know how to handle themselves using this technology with people other than their peers? Apparently not. And with this one ‘screaming’ at me, it seemed as though a quick review of TEXT ETIQUETTE was exactly what he needed.
Do your teens know how to “speak” to adults via the casual text?
It’s something that we assume we no longer have to worry about, right? Enter the Entitled Teen however, and there should come a disclaimer before each beep: You are about to receive a text from a teen that has never been made to respect others. And let me just say for the record: I RESENT THE ENTITLED TEEN! That’s an angry sentence and I have set it in bold so you know I am incredibly frustrated. Perhaps I’ll add my pissed off emoticon, too. The vicious and ugly result of a few teens raised to believe they rule the world, hold the reins and owe nothing to the people who help them, except a signed check from Mom and a wave of the arm.
In this particular case, I had a young man contact me who believed it was my responsibility to provide him with academic services I do not feel are ethically appropriate in my capacity as a writing tutor. He didn’t like that AT ALL, and while preparing to show me his unfinished, barely touched, college essays, he became a bit testy. Whining (I could tell, even though it was a text), he told me he couldn’t possibly be prepared: HE WAS AT DEBATE CAMP FOR SIX ENTIRE WEEKS AND NOW HE HAS A TEST IN TWO DAYS FOR AP ECON AND HE NEEDS ME TO HELP HIM IMMEDIATELY. Trust me, this went on for a while and to make matters worse, he spelled Wednesday, “Wensday.” I can’t make this up, which is why it is so beyond contempt.
The Husband rolled his eyes and said, “Fire him” and went back to “Game of Thrones” where Jon Snow, poor thing, was fighting a Giant and trying to save the nomads who wore the fur coats … and I thought about that long and hard. As a teacher, I have encountered challenging students — it’s part of my job. And I have always been able to set a teen straight with a dose of whoop ass or a sharp look. (One made the mistake of telling me a topic was ‘gay’ … oh c’mon people, you know EXACTLY what I did with THAT.)
But really fire a kid for being rude? That would be a first.
And as I reflected back on the hundreds of texts I have received from teens, he stood out. The only one who dared to be so rude to me and it felt like the right time to turn off my phone. So I did.
Our iGeneration certainly brings up unexpected moments that reek of uncivilized behavior – how many of you have fought with your teens via text?? Trust me, my fingers have started to bleed from texting one of mine so fast – but in professional relationships? There is no room for that.
So here are some fast and true general guidelines for Teens who Text Tutors/Teachers:
1) Do NOT text a tutor or teacher after 9:00 pm and if you must, do NOT expect a return text. Blasting them with multiple question marks is inconsiderate.
2) Do NOT use Facebook as a forum to discuss any personal feelings you have about a teacher at school, especially calling them hot, ugly, bitchy, or asshole. (And do not “like” anyone else’s post who writes derogatory things about a teacher). This will surely bite you later.
3) Do NOT subscribe to the informality texting permits: use please, thank you, and always maintain a respectful tone.
4) If you feel upset or frustrated – learn to let emotion pass BEFORE texting an adult.
I kept the student; I didn’t fire him. And yes, of course, said Entitled Teen did once again shoot me a text that stunk of disrespect and sarcasm, but this time I was ready. As he walked into my office, I held up my phone with his text promptly displayed and asked just what was THIS about? And he looked down and away and at the wall … and I suspect that little moment may have helped chip away some of his iAttitude.
Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois. Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice.