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on Leading the Next Generation


How Texting is Re-Defining Social Etiquette

You already know this—if you want to communicate with anyone from Generation iY (the kids born since 1990), you’ve got to learn to text. It’s their first language.


Today, texting has blown up the dating scene. It’s much easier for a guy to ask a girl on a date through a text. Rejection—which he desperately fears—is easier to take on a screen than face to face. Acceptance is easier too. Casual, easy and non-threatening is how you may describe it. Not since the dawn of the automobile has a technology (the cell phone) so dramatically redefined the way people interact. Texting has created a new brand of social and mobile etiquette, and it has given rise to a new way of flirting and connecting between two people. Now, the need for rules is beginning to surface:

  • Do you check your phone during a date?
  • How soon must you reply to a text?
  • Should a friend text you to see how the date is going?
  • Can you break up with someone via a text message?

This new reality has mushroomed out of a new norm for meeting via a screen. According to the New York Daily News more than one third of U.S. marriages begin with online dating, a recent U.S. study found. Online dating has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry and the Internet "may be altering the dynamics and outcome of marriage itself," said the study by U.S. researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We just find screens…inviting.

Choosing texting to phone calls makes sense because:

  • Calling someone is seen as an intrusion. Texting is less intrusive.
  • When you call people, you may not be able to get them off the phone.
  • You can craft exactly what you want to say when you write a text.
  • Calls are more emotionally expensive, requiring more thought and energy.

All of this, however, is also allowing for soft skills to remain undeveloped. The ability to read non-verbal cues, to listen well, to give eye contact and to interpret the tone of someone’s voice cannot be cultivated on a screen. Our emotional intelligence may remain low—as emotions are often misinterpreted on a screen. In short, we get lazy. Many guys will actually send the same text message to several females—sort of like going fishing. He wants to see who will bite. Probably the biggest atrophied skill is empathy. When we use a screen to communicate it seldom cultivates empathy. 59% of people (both sexes) are now OK with breaking up with someone via text.

The downside goes even deeper. Due to the increased screen time, dating abuse is more common now than ever. More than a third of teenage guys and girls say they’ve been physically or sexually abused in their dating relationship, according to new data from a nationwide survey. Similar numbers of both sexes say they have been the abusers. Some studies report that males and females are equally at risk of becoming victims and abusers—which might suggest it isn’t about size and strength, it starts with manipulating or bullying a person on a screen.

The bottom line?

We must find a way to help students navigate this new world. They are a generation of “firsts,” growing up dating and relating via a portable device. We must help them see the upside and downside of it all. Clinical psychologist Beverly Palmer says that because a text doesn’t afford the level of intimacy that a voice does, relationships can be ended much quicker. We must equip them to navigate a device that enables them to communicate and connect…without any relational skills.

I want to hear from you. What are your thoughts about this new world?




  1. Cathy Troup on August 6, 2013 at 6:55 am

    With 4 teens and 2 following I have kept in tune with Gen iY with phones and Facebook etc, but I have found that there is a lack of depth, or a unreal sense as you relate on Facebook etc.

    Messages on these mediums are at a very superficial level (unless of course you have known this person for a long time), I encourage my kids and teens to really have deep and “meaningfuls” with people face to face NOT over messages and Facebook and the like… easy to misinterpret, and unless you are a linguistic major with the gift of written expression I think hard to make your real feelings known!

    There is an element of disconnectedness that I see in the youth around me and yes sometimes that worries me…I wonder in this era if it stems from the nature of these mediums. Good or bad they are here to stay, but I plan to build kids who can function and converse face to face in an emotionally mature manner!

    • Tim Elmore on August 6, 2013 at 8:28 am

      Thanks for sharing Cathy. Wow, sounds like you have your hands full. I agree with you, it is easy to misinterpret a message over a screen, especially when it is about a serious matte,r as emotion is difficult to read through short phrases. Thank you for encouraging your kids to gain face-to face conversational skills. Very refreshing!

      • Cathy Troup on August 6, 2013 at 9:14 am

        Thanks for replying and encouraging, I really enjoy your blogs too. Teens in this generation need different equipping for sure. It is hard to find someone tuned in and not threatened by the overwhelming techy advancements today. After all they are still our kids not aliens! There must be someway we can interface with with them and connect. Often your words inspire me to do that! It helps me see that I can! Thanks

        • Jesse Ofori on August 10, 2013 at 2:54 pm

          Hello Auntie Cathy!!
          Thanks so much for your thoughts. Am 21 and an aspiring emerging leader, sometimes in my interactions with people, I feel texting is a better option because it is less expensive and often engaging. I also want to know if its rude to use texting as a means of communication to young people.

  2. Kevin on August 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I also see the draw of some babyboomer parents (of iYers) to rely almost entirely on texting because of its less confrontational and direct approach to communication….favored by those whose personalities and/or experiences mean they they are predisposed to flight in difficult situations. While a texting parent is able to “relate” and speak the language of their iY kiddos, it is often out of their own avoidance of approaching difficult issues and conversations that need to take place.

    Some parents need to relate more….. some need to model or engage other forms of communication with/for their children. Its seems that both iY gen and their parents have a lot to learn from one another.

    • Tim Elmore on August 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Yes, great input! You are so right, both gen iY and their parents can learn from each other. Both forms of communication have positive and negative consequences, I believe balance is key. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kevin!

  3. Raleigh's House of Etiquette on August 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Thank you for this article. It will be helpful for some of my parents to remember that these “children” and young adults need more hands on guidance than what they are getting. (Raleigh’s House of Etiquette – Raleigh, NC)

    • Tim Elmore on August 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Absolutely! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Marcus Ebejer on August 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I think the disconnectedness is one of the larger issues I have seen these kids begin to develop. The inability to have a true sit down, one on one, meaningful conversation with someone from the same or even different generation is becoming lost. So much interaction with an inanimate object almost causes them to lose the sense of humanity with the person on the other end. Which is why I see what you are saying with the abuse and breaking over texts… It makes emotional investment in another person less necessary and thus relationships “easier.” one can end a relationship simply by de-friending or ignoring messages that appear. It’s just the wrong kind of easy they are using to interact thru life.

    • Tim Elmore on August 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      So true Marcus! It is amazing how simple it is to “de-friend” someone virtually, yet how difficult it is to face that type of situation in person. It is so important to have the skills to interact and emotionally invest face to face as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. marccorona on August 6, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I find myself sometimes having to delete what I wrote in a text and make a phone call or just go up and talk to the person! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have grown up with texting as the normal form of communication. I don’t think it requires any more “parenting” than any other type of negative generational marker, but just a different kind parenting. One that is more intentional about explaining the ‘why’ behind the rule. But Gen iY is also marked by other positive things that make them more adept than previous generations, like a sacrificial passion to help others, and the desire to work together to accomplish a goal bigger than themselves. For me, it is easy to focus on the negatives of a person, but if I only do that then I’m not motivated to help them succeed. It is when I see their strengths that I understand that their contribution could be greater than even mine!

  6. Jane Mitchinson on August 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Alarm bells go off whenever I read posts like this. I get concerned when technology is blamed for behavioural problems, as I believe technology can only amplify existing behaviour and not modify it, sometimes alerting us to what is otherwise hidden. Are we not responsible for our own actions? Are there not a variety of societal factors that we should be studying first before dumping all the blame on technology? It just seems far too simplistic.

    I’d like to address the extreme. How can you possibly make the assumption that technology is causing dating abuse? Again, it can only serve to amplify and uncover existing behaviours by providing a larger repertoire of devices to communicate with.

    Can you really say that being dumped by a text message shows a clear lack of empathy? What is the alternative? Can you really assume it would be face to face communication? I’m going to play devil’s advocate here for the sake of making my point. Have you thought of the possibility that the alternative may have been the dumpee showing up in a public place to find the dumper already with someone else? Maybe texting affords the dumper a new communication choice by allowing him or her to land on the “courtesy” side of the fence, rather than not communicating at all. Alternatively, the type of communication selected by the dumper tells us more about his or her capacity for expressing empathy than may have been otherwise apparent.

    As for the statistics showing an increase in abuse, maybe these online tools are allowing greater access in responding to the surveys in a non-obtrusive format. It may be harder to admit to having been abused or being an abuser in a face to face survey conducted by adults. It is possible that the use of the technology may have helped uncover something that always existed allowing us to get a clearer view of an existing societal problem?

  7. Timothy Lynn Burchfield on August 10, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    I practice high tech mixed with high touch. I watched 5 teenagers getting ready to work in my business this afternoon text right up to the minute they were clocking in. I make sure to engage them with high touch by calling them by name, talking about their social activities and asking them a question about the job they will have today in my business. Without exception, each one beams because I remembered them personally.
    This small interaction helps them be able to interact with our guests in a personal way because they first received a special touch from me.
    Nothing fancy. Just a personal touch from me.

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How Texting is Re-Defining Social Etiquette