Social media cannot replace face-to-face interaction
By Dr. Julius Licata, director of TeenCentral.Net and ParentCentral.Net

OK, here’s a loaded question: does anyone remember when 5 or 5:30 p.m. was dinner time? I can remember very clearly what would happen if I was not at the table at that time. My father came home, my mother finished preparing dinner and we sat in our seats and ate as a family. To be honest, there were times I didn’t like it, hated it, would rather be outside with my friends, but that was the rule. It was at that table where we had conversations about how our day at school went, how my father’s workday went and what was new in the neighborhood. We not only learned how to communicate, we learned how to communicate appropriately. Many of our successes can probably be traced back to those great learning experiences.

Today I wonder if anyone ever eats at home. Oh, I am sure that there is food there, and plenty of it, but does anyone sit down and eat, I mean, as a family? How do kids learn how to communicate appropriately? A few weeks ago I was on Facebook. Yes, I have a Facebook account and I do go on occasionally. Anyway, comments from my friend’s son, who I evidently am friends with in this vast neighborhood known as cyberspace, appeared, miraculously, on my page. There were words that I would never use in public, all over this page, for everyone to see. All of his thoughts, ideas, and comments, which must have come from a moment of rage, where there, unedited. Didn’t anyone ever teach him how to filter what he should say and where?

Obviously, the social mecca of the world is not at the family table, or even in the family house. It is through social media. It’s a place where you can do anything, at any time for any reason, at any price, without thought or compromise, without care or worry. It’s an amazing place and I wonder, is it the cause of the social ignorance we experience everywhere we go? I mean, I was taught that you never read the paper or mail or anything at the table when others were sitting with you because it was rude. Today, all you have to do is go to a restaurant to see how many “smart” phones are in people’s hands while the people they are dining with are sitting there, either doing the same or looking out of place.

If we want our children to grow up with socially acceptable behaviors, we have to be the example. We have to make time to share our thoughts and ideas, our experiences and difficulties with them. There is no better place to do this than in the home, at the table or in the rec room. We need to put the phones down, turn off the gaming stations, put the TV on mute or turn it off and share time with each other. Not only will you help teach your children, you will be open to learning from them. You will see and appreciate their expressions and they will learn to experience this in others as well.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is wonderful, in its place. But, its place can permeate our every movement so that we can’t even drive without being connected to everyone else. We are often oblivious to the danger we put ourselves in, let alone those we love. This is so bad that laws have to be passed to tell us it’s wrong. Whether we are texting, dialing or setting a GPS while driving, we are putting ourselves and those around us in jeopardy. It is that simple. These devices are tools to make our lives easier; they are not intended to be the distraction they have become to many.

Let’s use social media as it was meant to be used – as a way to catch up, to learn, to connect, to do business. But let’s not sacrifice the physical presence of one another. Let’s teach our children social skills that will follow them throughout their lives.

Why not try something different today? Leave your phone at home for short times and see how your life is without being connected to the outside world every moment. If you think you cannot do that, try to remember a time when cell phones were not a staple in life, a time before everyone could immediately find out everything about anything around the world. It just might bring some peace to your otherwise busy life. Next time you want to text or call someone, why not drive over to their house, or meet for a cup of coffee and enjoy the face-to-face encounters that seem to be fading from memory?

It is even difficult to fathom that there are people who can speak to others online, but when it comes to face-to-face interaction, they have no ability to hold a conversation. This is a travesty and yet, we continue to pour our hearts out in a media that does not care for the individual. To make matters worse, our children are becoming victims of a faceless community that no longer plays hide-and-seek, or tag or any of the games that involve real personal interaction. Instead, our kids are on gaming sites at ever earlier ages and the only “play dates” some have, are in Internet chat rooms.

As director of two sites that work as a type of social media, TeenCentral.Net and ParentCentral.Net, I can tell you that we put into effect some good tools. Any teen or parent can write in anonymously and receive an answer to their questions within 24 hours. With their identity protected, they can read other people’s stories and responses, and they can even play some games. But none of this is in real time, and they are always encouraged to create wholesome one-on-one, face-to-face, live relationships as well.

Email is a wonder and something I use daily. As a matter of fact I don’t know what I would do without it. However, it has become so easy to connect within a moment that when we are angry or frustrated, there is no cooling off period. Instead, we go right to the phone or laptop and confront another person. When we respond this way, problems don’t just melt away in the part of our brain that allows us to “get-over-it. No, we can deal with it right now, and the result is usually not pretty.

Everyone needs to use and master the tools available to them. We, too, must encourage our youth to continue to grow in this area. However, we also have to help them to see the many benefits of forging lifelong relationships that happen by sharing mutual goals and fun times in person. Social media is important and has its place, but it can never replace the time spent with family and friends at the beach, sitting and watching a movie, talking about things you have done together as you grow or just spending some quality time with those you love.