Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013, 3:15 pm

Twitter this! Emoticons are no substitute for emotion

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By Gabriele Doyle

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about our children -- I mean everyone's children.

They are trying to find their way in a world that is faster, more complicated, more technologically advanced (and with personal access to that technology), more dangerous and seemingly more ambivalent than the world I grew up in.

Being an older mom (my medical chart said "AMA" -- "advanced maternal age" -- with my first child at 36!) has been quite an adventure. I was not the sort of child who dreamed about getting married, let alone having children.
My poor dolls swung on scarves and string from tree branches in pursuit of Tarzan, or hunkered down in forts against attacking marauders. They very seldom got a chance to nap in their baby bed.

I was an inveterate tomboy. I jumped from the tops of sheds, from swings and slides; climbed trees; roamed the woods or the field behind our house whenever I got the chance; and couldn't get enough of being outside.

I even got a tattoo when I was 8. No gasps of shock, please -- I fell out of an oak tree onto a bunch of black raspberries, and it took several weeks for the purple thorn pricks to wear off. I would take walks in the rain as I got a little older, and my forbearing mother simply greeted me with a towel and a change of clothes when I got back home.

I saw my friends and neighbors all the time, and in hindsight I realize what a wonderful sense of connectedness with each other we were privileged to enjoy. If Mrs. Rugens got sick, my mother would send me over with a quart of homemade soup made from the vegetables we grew in our own little backyard garden.

My brother, older sister and I didn't have to be told to go help the elderly neighbors with their raking, mowing, shoveling or even grocery-carrying.
It came naturally because we knew and liked our neighbors. Even the grouchy old lady in the "haunted" house was won over by a huge bunch of wild lilac on her birthday, presented to her by a bunch of gap-toothed, freckle-faced, sunburned neighborhood kids.

I loved, respected and admired my parents. I was also blessed because I had teachers whom I was crazy about. They nagged and encouraged, but also held their students responsible.

Both at home and at school I learned to love learning. It was an incomparable gift to be given at such a young age, and it has stayed with me my entire life.
I don't mean to bore you with personal details, but I do want you to understand where I'm coming from. I firmly believe that our children are poor in the midst of plenty.

They have cellPHONES, but text instead of talking. Access to one's own private phone was unheard of when I was a kid.

Today our children are addicted to videogames and spend gloriously beautiful days like moles in the dark, clicking away at their controllers.
They are unaware of the tides and currents of daily life in the natural world. With the entire world at their fingertips via the Internet, they take no joy in learning. A power outage reduces them to utter frustration and impotent anger.

Our children are inundated with electronic stimulation at the press of a button, and yet they are failing to make human connections. Hiding behind texting and Facebook doesn't count as true communication. It is impossible to convey the nuances of speech and emotion through Emoticons, ladies and gentlemen! And please don't think I'm excluding myself or my household in this little diatribe. It is only with nagging and as much diligence as my husband and I are able to muster that our children are pulled out of their own little electronic cocoons.

What is the point of all of this? Well, it only takes a few keystrokes on a computer to assassinate someone online. An angry teenager can really get a rumor mill going via Facebook. I almost wonder if we shouldn't implement some kind of licensing procedure to allow access to social media. Anyone can make a video of an indiscretion and have it uploaded literally for the world to see in a matter of seconds.

Studies show that the teen brain is not able to self-edit appropriately in comparison to the amount of damage that very teen can inflict with access to technology.

There is too much damage being done to our children in today's culture, and the first step to healing it has to be taken AT HOME. We need to model for our children the right way to interact with people. We do NOT "interface" with them!

Maybe we could promote a resurgence in family night without any media at all, and instead pull out some board games or jigsaw puzzles.

The amount of meaningful conversation that takes place while your child is slaughtering you at Monopoly is priceless. As adults, we need to make sure our own priorities and example are in order.

Above all, we need to remember that technology is a tool for us to use, not a master to enslave us.
Gabriele Doyle of Andalusia serves as business manager of River Bend Christian Counseling, which she started with her husband.