From The Parent Coach: Developing Social Depth In An Age Of Text Messaging

Author: Dr. Steven Richfield

Today’s communication technologies hasten the pace of connecting to others while spawning the chase to increase contacts and stay updated within one’s social group. The culture of “instant interaction” is especially evident within the young, where technology has redefined “talking” as detached shorthand texts that minimize verbal interaction.

Opportunities to advance conversation skills are absent during the “text dance” that values clips of words put forth without face-to-face interaction. Issues of importance are squeezed into tiny screens without awareness of the emotional effect of messages. This faceless communication of today’s “face book generation” places a daunting task before them: how to develop true depth within relationships when raised on postings and pretense?

If parents are to impact upon this “techno-detachment,” it must be viewed within the social network where it has found such a happy home. For many kids, social interaction follows the grooves that have been in place within schools and communities. Grooves raise walls around social groups, prescribing who talks to whom, setting the stage for texting and messaging to facilitate inclusion and exclusion. Despite these forces, parents can aid their children’s social growth with careful consideration of these coaching tips:

Depth begins at home, and don’t return to the surface just because they’re older.

If we want our kids to establish meaningful relationships among peers they need a continuing roadmap to get there. Parents form a child’s first template for relating below the surface of superficial interaction. Ironically, the deeper stuff of feelings, memories, and wishes, plentiful when they are so young, is often covered over as they age. Their social repertoire requires that they continue to express their deeper selves, sounding out hopes, fears, and private thoughts, within the safety of the parent-child bond. Help them access this deeper self by leading the way. Share your observations of the social ambiguities and conversational struggles that characterize adult relationships. Trace the links to their own social group.

Offer helpful navigation early so they are more accustomed to parental guidance as they grow older.

Many parents take a “hands off” approach to a child’s social life until problems develop, but by then their teen is not interested in a “back seat guider” of social life. Begin discussing the “social road” by using the metaphor of driving. Explain how kids send different signals to one another, much like traffic lights represent different instructions. Examples of green lights include pointed questions or comments about areas of mutual interest. Yellow lights signal the need for caution, such as when friends act inconsistently or break commitments. Peers who send red lights ignore social overtures and avoid contact. Encourage your child to send and receive green lights so that they can be a more effective driver of their social life.

Be mindful of the social impact upon kids in an age of “my preferences.”

Technology has created a mindset where instant preference creeps into much of childhood: music, ring tones, screen savers, websites, etc. For some kids, this also extends to peers, who they measure with the same exacting standards used when cueing up their portable music players. Judgmental attitudes and tendencies to associate within a narrow social stratum result. Skills to relate to a diverse cross-section of people are shortchanged when excessive personal preferences steer peer relations. Parents are wise to point out the costs of being too picky in today’s peer life, both to their happiness today and their capacity to relate to a wider social world in their future.

Highlight for your child where opportunities for deeper connections may be present in their lives.

Children often lead their lives by following routines that don’t consider how they might nurture a meaningful friendship simply by expressing a comment that highlights a common ground issue. Parents can help them take inventory of their activities and associations so as to pinpoint where these opportunities exist.

Dr. Steven Richfield is a child psychologist in Plymouth Meeting, PA He developed Parent Coaching Cards, a child-friendly, self-control/social skills building program in use all over the world. Contact him at or 610-238-4450. To learn more, visit


  1. Gabby said on October 11th at 11:28 pm:

    Impressive article on parenting.

    Good tips for parents.

    Thanks Dr. Richfield

  2. livelybrowsers said on October 19th at 6:34 pm:

    Thanks for good stuff

  3. Dr Richfield said on September 29th at 11:21 pm:

    Always looking for new topics to write about. Please e-mail me your questions.

    Dr Richfield

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