Don’t text thank-yous!
As an older-than-typical mother of a 14-year-old, I’ve gotten used to my daughter’s
facility with digital appliances and my obvious limitations with them. She’s a digital
native, after all. So I try not to yell when she jerks my cell phone from my hand because
I’m using it, in her view, incorrectly.
She is faster, more proficient, more agile with digital devices. She has played around
with cellular phones and lap-top computers enough to figure out how to do all sorts of
things with all sorts of apps. Her facility with Power Point is such that she creates, with
bells and whistles, any presentations for my classes.
Still, I believe there are a few things I can teach her about communicating the old-
fashioned way. Her adolescent rebellious streak often shows itself in her dismissive
comments about my instructions: “You’re old,” she’ll say. It’s true. And I’m also old-
I believe, for example, in hand-written thank-you notes to people who have taken the
time to assist her with homework or picked out perfect gifts for her. Since her generation
hasn’t learned cursive, she has to write legibly in print. “Can’t I just type them?” she’ll
ask; her generation has learned key-boarding skills from, of course, an app.
“No, you have to write them by hand.” There is something about the warmth and
intimacy of a handwritten note that a typed note cannot convey. (A text message
doesn’t come close.) As just one example, my daughter wrote by hand a lovely note to a
beloved science teacher who taught her a few years ago and still takes the time to tutor
her after school. When the note, which included a drawing of a Christmas present, was
presented along with an actual gift, the teacher told my daughter that “the note was the
best part.” The teacher may hold onto it for years to come.
Technology has so changed the world in a few short decades that my daughter’s school
embraces it. By fifth grade, students start using laptops loaded with educational
software. The school also uses an educational content management system onto which
teachers load assignments, grades and class schedules. I am grateful for a system that
allows my daughter — and me — to so easily track her work.
The internet has made it much easier for me to conduct research, tend to my banking
and conduct my classes. Without Zoom, I’m not sure how I would have made it through
the pandemic shutdown. There is no doubt that technology has created opportunity,
promoted advancement and boosted performance in many arenas.
But there is a significant downside to this brave new world. Even as it has created jobs,
technology has also eliminated whole categories of employment. One hardly hears of
“secretaries” anymore; bank tellers will soon follow. Retail stores are shutting down as
customers shift to online shopping. Factories are replacing humans with robots.
Far worse is the way in which technology has allowed misinformation to spread faster
and faster. Shadow worlds of weird conspiracies thrive online. False information about
COVID-19, spread in online forums, still stalks us, hampering efforts to control the virus.
Moreover, I fear the debilitating effect that digital media can have on teenagers’ sense
of self-esteem. As rates of childhood anxiety and suicide have skyrocketed, some
psychologists point to pervasive social media. Many youngsters have access to the
photos of Instagram and the videos of TikTok, which are filled with unrealistic images of
perfect bodies and faces. Adolescence is difficult enough without the inevitable
comparisons teens make to their own imperfect selves. Add the risks of online bullying,
and you have a recipe for a depressed youngster.
I do what I can to limit my daughter’s exposure to the riskier corners of the online world.
Recognizing my incompetence in those media, I spent 45 minutes — online, of course
— learning how to set up parental controls on her various devices. But, again, she’s
better at this stuff than I am, so I don’t think it will be long before she finds a way to
Still, I haven’t given up. That’s why I will spend the rest of the holiday season nagging
her to write thank-you notes by hand.