It seems that while communication has gotten faster, it has also become sparser. Why write a whole sentence when you can text the idea in three letters and an asterisk? Why stop to talk and possibly get engaged in a lengthy conversation when you can shoot out an email in seconds? Taking the time to converse at length with other people has apparently become rather bothersome in our culture.
The other day this became critically clear to me when I saw a woman walking with her daughter (in a stroller) and her dogs around the block. She strode purposefully and made it clear that she was working out and she had other things to attend to. It was not a pleasure stroll. She had a cell phone to her ear while her daughter occupied herself silently.
The effects of this new, light-speed communication has its grip on teenagers, too, who, last I remember, used to get in trouble in school for all the talking they did with each other. Last week, I saw a group of five teenagers bouncing around the mall in an odd, disconnected and silent clump--each one had a cell phone in his or her hand, texting someone other than the kids they were with.
It is not necessarily their "fault," either. These were probably the same children who were sat down in front of televisions when they were bored or restless or needy for attention. Or they were given headphones and a Sony Walkman to soothe them to sleep instead of a lullaby sung to them while being held.
The overarching question, however, is what this disconnect may mean for the next generation when we know that communication--both verbal and non-verbal--is the foundation of social and personal wellbeing and how can parents reverse this trend?
Children learn who they are in the world via an organic form of biofeedback. Machines are not necessary for attentive mothers to know their children are not feeling well. Nor are they required for us to communicate positive or negative responses to children. Our intentions and emotions are manifest on a consistent basis. When we are happy with them, they know it in the lightness of their hearts. When we are disappointed, they feel it in their guts as if they'd been physically punched. Everything we say and do communicates and that communication is received by them not only cognitively but, perhaps more importantly, physically.
If this is true, then the current trend towards cyber-chatting as opposed to face-to-face communication, may not only present a problem for party-goers and event planners, but a real issue in terms of our emotional and physical health.
What we say addresses not only the mind of the person to whom we are speaking, but the body. We physiologically and genetically respond to words, ideas and beliefs. In his book, The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton draws a picture of the human organism as a vital, interactive community of more than 50 trillion cells, each one with individual intelligence and responsiveness that facilitates cooperation and uniform function.
In order for an organism to be healthy and vital, all these cells must be able to communicate with one another. That occurs along the membranes of the cells. When the membranes are open and adaptive, information passes freely between the cells. Healthy blood cells, for instance, have flexible membranes, while unhealthy blood cells have rigid ones. In Lipton's terminology, the unhealthy ones become "protective" and unyielding, while the healthy ones are "open" and growing.
What accounts for the difference?
According to Lipton's early observations of cellular response to toxins, it's the environment. The environment not only affects the cell, it affects the cell's posture and receptivity to other cells.
But, as we are coming to see, it's not just the physical environment we need to concern ourselves with. It is the way in which we receive our experiences, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the words we repeat in our minds (as well as the images they create) that determine whether a cell becomes "self-protective" and closed or "adaptable" and open. The "environment" includes not just what we see or eat, but what we hear and feel.
What makes this important in terms of communication with children is that not only are they hearing what we say (whether or not they have the cognitive and linguistic abilities to fully understand us), but they are receiving our communication at the cellular and genetic level.
Beyond Biofeedback: Verbal First Aid
The American Medical Association advises parents to talk to their children as often as possible. And when words fail to come readily, they explain that just a parent's voice and presence is what a baby needs to feel reassured. They state: "Always respond to your newborn's cries--he cannot be spoiled with too much attention."