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IMing your family

January 5th, 2004 · No Comments

Ted sent me this link to Saturday’s NYT article That Parent-Child Conversation Is Becoming Instant, and Online

The article discusses how, “instant messaging, long a part of teenagers’ lives, is working its way into the broader fabric of the American family.”

… as families own more than one computer, the machines spread beyond the den and home networks relying on wireless connections become increasingly popular, instant messaging is taking root within the home itself…

Although it might seem lazy or silly to send electronic messages instead of getting out of a chair and walking into the next room, some psychologists say that the role of the technology within families can be remarkably positive. In many cases, they say, the messages are helping to break down the interpersonal barriers that often prevent open communication.”

The person I instant message (IM) the most is Ted, who is often just a wall away from me. But often, at least during the work day, he’s on the phone or it just seems wiser to me to not interrupt him much if I have a question to ask. So we do instant message in our family, from laptop to laptop, but it’s not because we need to break down interpersonal barriers. It’s just more convenient. It doesn’t interfere with his phone calls or work. And I don’t have deep conversations via IM with Ted. Our dialogue is more about details: are you free for lunch? who’s on the phone? ready to go to bed yet? that kind of talk. Little love notes and quick questions rather than big foundational discussions.

The article mentions how adults IMing teens helps break down the cultural gaps between generations. I can see that. I can see that entering my daughter’s world and being on her turf could be helpful if I’m trying to get to know her more and build trust and connection.

However I’m not so sure that having deep dialogues about difficult issues on IM is good. I suppose that it is better than not having such discussions at all. For some relationships, it might be necessary, I suppose, due to the tension, history and patterns of communicating.

Ms. Parsonnet, a psychotherapist, said that the online back channel strips away some of the parts of face-to-face communication that complicate matters: “They don’t see your face turning red,” she said. “They don’t see you turning cross — all the things that will shut them up immediately.”

Both instant messages and e-mail messages can help smooth things over after a fight, said Nora Gross, a 17-year-old in Manhattan who said that electronic communications had helped strengthen her relationship with her father. “I can remember a few times when we’ve had little blowups and sent apology letters over e-mail,” she said. “We’re both writers, so I guess it’s easier for us to put our feelings into words through text.”

For me though I find that I want to give and receive forgiveness face to face. Sure I’ve sent a few e-apologies in my time, but there’s nothing like looking in the eyes of one you love and saying you’re sorry. Nothing like getting a hug, a kiss and a look of grace in return.

Right now I’m teaching my children to look at me, and I look at them, when they ask me for forgiveness. I make sure they can see my face, getting on my knees if necessary, when I say I’m sorry to them for mistakes I’ve made.

I’m a writer and I like to express myself with words. And I like to IM too. But I think IMing through important discussions in life is less than best. All technology has its limitations, and if possible, especially if the person is someone in my family, someone around the corner or down the hall or up the stairs, I’d rather get up out of my seat and go ask for grace face to face.

Tags: family