Cell Phones, Social Media and the Death of School Dances

I think some of the pundits have this one wrong.

teen-cell-phoneAn article in Business Insider this week, detailing how school dances are going the way of the dodo bird, perhaps because teens may be losing their ability to socialize, is getting a lot of buzz and it’s the kind of issue where everyone has an opinion. We do too.

The Business Insider article was actually fairly balanced, and focused on the question of why school dances are dying out. It was not an immediate indictment of kids’ socialization skills or a demonization of current technology. Case and point, quoting one current high school student:

“Kids don’t need to go to a dance to interact with each other when they can sit in their bed with their laptop and phone and text them,” she said. “It’s basically like being with that person.”

That didn’t stop dozens of outlets from taking the issue to the most sound bite-worthy level, declaring the death of traditional communication by our youths, and painting it as some sort of weakness. This is where the criticism might be off the mark.

For example, Deborah Carr, Rutgers University sociology professor weighed in with the following when interviewed by radio station NJ 101.5:

“[Dances] involve asking someone to dance or go out on a date, which means face-to-face communication and physical touch,” she said. “And if young people are accustomed only to communicating in this very kind of impersonal way [via technology], they may find all these new layers of closeness to be kind of intimidating and frightening.”

Face to face interaction, for certain people, has always been intimidating and frightening. Having to do it in an arbitrary setting at a time determined by school officials may not be the most conducive to real, quality interaction. Just because we’ve always done it that way, doesn’t make it how it should be done. A couple more thoughts from a parent of two teens:

Where your parents aren’t – There is always an element of teens wanting to be places and do things totally separate from their parents. Even at a school dance, there are teachers and chaperones, making everything a little forced. We understand, though, that unsupervised electronic communication is not without risks.

More choice – I would rather see my kids connecting with a friend or group carefully chosen that the whole school, at an appointed hour. Back in the day, if the only way you could talk to Suzie was to go to the school dance, you had to be there, or risk missing out. No such barriers exist these days. Communicating with whom and when you want, via the medium you choose, seems to be more natural, and works seamlessly given the availability of smartphones and social media.

Awkwardness removed – Yes, awkwardness will always be an issue with teens exploring the dating world. If initiating a conversation via social media is less awkward than approaching a mysterious potential love interest at a school dance, that’s a good thing.

As parents, we should like the fact that kids doing what they want  – if it’s legal and harmless and leads to positive personal development. Don’t be dismayed by the electronic element – it only goes so far. At some point, kids are going to meet face to face. Let’s let it happen, not make it happen.

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

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