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You’ve Got Mail! - Teenage Communication in 2020

Posted by Tim Cheney, Director of College Counseling on Jan 21, 2020 1:36:59 PM

I once suggested to one of my students that they call an admission office to clarify a detail about an upcoming visit they were planning. You would have thought I was asking them to donate a major organ or just told them they would not be able to graduate from high school. You know the look. Bemused. Incredulous. Paralyzed. Snap out of it, kid, it’s a just a phone call, I thought to myself. I make calls all the time for any number of reasons to an assortment of people on campus and off. But that got me thinking about the whole concept of communication, raising some essential questions. Is it reasonable to expect teenagers to communicate as effectively as adults, or perhaps more importantly, in the same manner? 

A06I8154We all occasionally fall into the trap of hoping that if we just ignore an issue it will go away, which makes me wonder if this is an intentional communication strategy being deployed by students across the planet. Are teenagers and their conspirators trying to kill email? How much essential information falls through the cracks because, as many of my students have informed me, teenagers don’t use email? Depending on your demographic, you’re either thinking, how on Earth is that possible, or yeah, that sounds about right. So, in an electronic landscape dominated by Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube and Tik Tok, it’s easy(ish) to understand why email falls below the fold (enjoy the newspaper reference Gen Xers and Boomers!). Take note that texting hasn’t been mentioned until just now, and let us not forget that most teens also manage some type of electronic platform for their schoolwork, like MyTA for students at Tabor. Oh, and for juniors and seniors there is an expectation for them to use Naviance, too. Wait…what?!

Students learn a great deal in school about how to communicate. Take writing and speaking, for example. These forms of expression are nurtured and refined across the curriculum over many years. These hallmarks of communication also loom large in the college admission process and we spend a good amount of time helping students gain skill and confidence in this realm. Students must be well prepared to share their narrative in some type of personal essay where writing takes center stage, but there are also times when they will need to let their actual voices do the talking, perhaps in an interview or a meeting with an admission representative or a coach. These skills are the backbone of a quality education and they are reinforced in the college search. But when it comes to email, there just seems to be an expectation that students are good at it. I get it, it’s easy to be dismissive, thinking that because they grew up in the iPhone era that they can comfortably manage all things electronic. The truth is they can’t and they don’t!  

Perhaps the most salient question is how can we help students learn to more effectively manage email? Just because students are tech-savvy doesn’t mean they are fluent with email. In fact, most teenagers struggle in this arena and it may have more to do with developing the executive functioning skills necessary to manage the scores of missives sent their way on a daily basis. Any colleges out there reading? If so, take note – you may be part of the problem. It’s our collective responsibility to help students learn how to communicate…effectively, and managing email is a part of that equation. Flooding their inboxes with unwanted or meaningless content only adds to the challenge. I’ll admit, I am occasionally guilty of falling prey to such practices, but only occasionally. The college office makes every effort to be thoughtful, timely, and strategic when delivering content via email to students. We often opine that we wish there were a better way. Sorry, students, it’s an email world, we just live in it. Regardless, learning how to manage email, including evacuating the clutter and unwanted queries with precision and efficiency, filing messages for future reference, and responding in a timely manner when necessary, is a skill that will help prepare students to be successful in college, career, and life. And when it comes right down to it, mastering this skill might be as helpful to students’ future achievements as calculus and chemistry.

Why does it bother me when a student sets their phone down on my desk and I can see the red circle on the top right corner of their email icon shows the number 479? Because colleges use email. Because College Board and ACT use email. Scholarship organizations use email. Deadlines are missed. Opportunities are lost. Important things fall through the cracks. Wake up, students…please read your email!


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Topics: College Counseling