The Fall of Interpersonal Communication and How to Save it
By Kyra Brue
Think about the average American high schooler in 2018. They probably have their headphones in to block out the world; their face is glued to their phone Snapchatting, Tweeting, or Instagramming; maybe they are actively avoiding eye contact with you and every human they see as they speed walk down the street or through the mall. Does that sound about right? It might be an extreme case, but teens today, specifically those apart of generation Z and generation Y (AKA millennials), rely heavily on technology to get through their day. Because of this problem, they don’t know how to interpersonally communicate or express themselves through writing, or more commonly through speech with other human beings (Kick et al. 214). In this new age of technology, Millennials and members of Gen-Z are doing less talking and more communicating through texting, emojis, emails, or memes. Teens nowadays use texting as a main form of communication, and many of them are becoming almost afraid to use other forms of connection, such as talking on the phone or talking face-to-face with a friend, colleague, or (God-forbid) a stranger. (Skeen 182) So, the question is: what can we do about this issue? Do high school students need to be taught how to communicate interpersonally? I would say that they do.
I propose that we incorporate a course, mandatory in every public high school throughout the 50 United States and Puerto Rico, to teach phone-addicted teens how to effectively communicate with people without using a computer, tablet or phone. High school students’ brains are still developing, and they are at the age where they begin learning more higher-level information, so this is a great time to begin teaching them how to effectively interpersonally communicate. While it seems smarter to begin this process with younger kids in elementary and middle schools, I don’t believe younger students would be able to pay attention long enough to learn about verbal communication. Therefore, high schoolers, ages 14 to 18, should be required to take this course.
In this class, they will first have to give up their phones, or any other form of technology, when they enter the classroom. This will help eliminate distractions. Next, they will begin with exercises, specifically ones that are entertaining, so students will be able to pay attention for the next hour or so. This class will teach interpersonal communication skills, with a focus on verbal communication. It will be taught in Standard American English, so there is some kind of structure, and it will include a couple of written assignments for grading purposes. All high school students will be required to take this class in order to graduate, sort of like how P.E and health classes are needed to graduate, but the skills learned in this course will be more beneficial to one’s future success.
In section 1.12 of Kentucky’s Learning Goals and Academic Expectation: What Kentucky High School Graduates Should Know and Be Able to Do as They Exit Public Schools, one of the goals state that, “students [must know how to] speak using appropriate forms, conventions, and styles to communicate ideas and information to different audiences for different purposes.” (Kentucky Department of Education 2) This Reform Act was created in 1994, when the importance of verbal communication was greater than technological communication, due to the smaller variety of devices that could be used to communicate with others. I believe that we can eventually go back to this mindset of speaking face-to-face with others. If we put a focus on verbal communication while students are in this class, then we can hopefully see some sort of turnaround in the interpersonal communication of teens and young adults.
You may be asking yourself, why does this matter so much? Why can’t we just let them have their phones? The future is all about technology anyway, right? Well, technology may be slowly taking over the world, but that doesn’t mean that we have to let it. Technology dependent teens, students, and other young, active members of society are our future engineers, doctors, lawyers, CEO’s and even Presidents. If we don’t do something about these generation’s lack of communication skills now, the future of our society may be at risk.
If you think about all of the higher-up jobs like the aforementioned, you will notice that along with knowing a lot about a company or the country, you also need to be able to communicate with a wide variety of people on a daily basis. And not just through emails. Communication has traditionally been considered one of the most crucial factors [in] allowing [an] individual to adapt [themselves] to [their] environment,” (Ozturk et al. 53) and in a high stakes job, like the latter, communication is a necessity. If we don’t prepare our future leaders to do something as simple as communicating verbally, we could end up with a generation or two of people who don’t know how to communicate face-to-face.
While this task is an important one, it isn’t going to be easy. According to the results found in a study done by Trakya University, “it can…be concluded that the number of the facilities that students gain from the internet and their access over and over again during the day leads an internet addiction among the students.” (Egmen and Murat 670) Students use one or more devices in a school day, even in schools that ban phone use, and although most of the internet use throughout the day is educational, there are ample opportunities for students to misuse these devices. Speaking from experience, when high school students go to the media center or use school laptops for educational purposes, it is usually easy to goof off and play computer games instead of doing the online lab your Biology teacher assigned you. Even outside of school, students have access to phones, tablets, computers, Apple watches, and more. “According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of teens text regularly and one in three teens send more than one hundred texts per day,” (Skeen 182) meaning they’re almost always on their phones or other devices multiple times a day. So, with this being said, being able to get students to spend at least one to two hours of their day devoted to a class with absolutely no use of any devices, not even a projector, can help guide them towards bettering their verbal communication skills.
One way in which there is already an unconscious instruction of communication seen throughout high schools, is through extracurricular activities like sports. According to the study done by the Physical Culture and Sport: Studies and Research, “… it could be concluded that all students [in the study] … could be equally affected by sport-related games in terms of communication skills.” (Ozturk et al. 61) Meaning, students who are currently enrolled in extracurriculars or sports activities are more likely to have higher communication skills than those who don’t partake in extracurriculars. Since sport-related games focus on keeping a maximum level of participation between students with different characteristics and skills, these activities can help to build students’ communication skills in a fun and carefree environment. (Ozturk et al. 61) Although this idea has already seen some success, not every student takes part in an extracurricular activity, and with the implication of this class we can make these skills available to all students, not just some.
The last point that I will make about the need for an interpersonal communication class to be taught in high schools has to do with students’ futures in the workplace. As previously stated, generation y and z are our future, and they need to be well prepared to take it on. If we provide them with the tools to help them build their interpersonal communication skills, they will feel more comfortable conversing with their immediate supervisors, thus strengthening supervisor-employee relationships, which will prevent any avoidable conflict and future turnover. (Kick et. al 219) It’s not enough to begin integrating this idea to them once they’re already in their field of choice; we need to introduce the importance of interpersonal communication earlier on, so employers don’t have to. In the paper, written by Kick et al, they talk about how employers should send employees to workshops, match older and younger generations together to learn from each other, and “emphasize the importance of oral and written communication skills in job descriptions, recruitment practices, training, and performance management systems.” (Kick et al. 218) While these ideas are good attempts at fixing the problem, I still believe that there needs to be some sort of regulated class for students still in high school, so they can know these communication skills before entering the workforce, or even university.
This issue, as small as it may seem, could ultimately hurt America’s future if things don’t change. We could have a future filled with socially inept people instead of active members of society. We are already seeing the effects of high schoolers, college students, and even college graduates with little to no interpersonal communication skills. They can send a text, email, or tweet, but they’re afraid to call someone on the phone or have conversations with people in person. This shouldn’t be the norm. This proposed mandatory class isn’t about eliminating the influence of technology, because that would be close to impossible, but it is about teaching valuable skills that students will need in the future. Could you imagine if our future President didn’t know how to properly communicate with foreign diplomats or their own cabinet members because they were too socially awkward? This may be another extreme example, but it’s definitely something to think about. And although we have extracurriculars currently implemented into most high schools across the country, I still believe that those activities alone aren’t enough. Also, while it is commendable that employers are taking steps to teach newly hired gen z and millennial employees written and verbal communication skills, they shouldn’t have to. If this proposal goes into effect in the near future, I predict that we will be able to see some sort of changes to the level of interpersonal communication skills displayed by generations y, z, and beyond hopefully by the year 2026.
“Kentucky’s Learning Goals and Academic Expectations: What Kentucky High School Graduates Should Know and Be Able to Do as They Exit Public Schools,” Kentucky Department of Education July 1994. EBSCOhost, login.proxy.kennesaw.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED395685&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Kick, Amanda L., et al. “How Generation Z’s Reliance on Digital Communication Can Affect Future Workplace Relationships.” Competition Forum, vol. 13, no. 2, July 2015, pp. 214–222. EBSCOhost, login.proxy.kennesaw.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=113046494&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Ozturk Ozden Tepekoylu, et al. “Impact of Sport-Related Games on High School Students’ Communication Skills.” Physical Culture and Sport: Studies and Research, Vol 67, Iss 1, Pp 53-64 (2015), no. 1, 2015, p. 53. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1515/pcssr-2015-0017.
Skeen, Michelle. “Communication Skills for Teens: How to Listen, Express & Connect for Success.” Oakland, California: Instant Help Books, 2016. EBSCOhost, login.proxy.kennesaw.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat06545a&AN=ken.9914044282302931&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Tekkanat, Egemen and Topaloglu, Murat, “The Assessment of High Schoolers’ Internet Addiction,” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 205, Oct. 2015, pp. 664–670. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.09.104.