Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Etiquette of Communicating with Young People

The Etiquette of Communications

I recently attended a great workshop with a group of local high school students and interested adults in which our goal was to learn about the obstacles to and problems associated with communication between and amongst youth and adults. The results were very revealing with education, awareness and respect being the three most important elements to improving this important dynamic. There does appear to be a missing bridge connecting generations which gradually forms over the years as we mature. The frustrations that accompany many people can be eased if we keep in mind some basic human kindness. The very birth of etiquette is based in creating a form of communication which is subtle, non-threatening, and helpful.

One of the most basic mistakes I make in communicating with someone is that I make assumptions which are based solely on the thoughts in my own mind. None of us are mind readers really, and to assume that others think or react to actions around us the same way we do can create unexpected miscommunications and misunderstandings. Therefore it is important to be clear about what we are saying. As adults, being consistent in how we speak with children provides a real sense of security to them. Parents can be especially guilty of failing here. Teachers and other authority figures such as coaches can send crossed messages easily and confuse children rather than reassure them. Clarity comes not only in the words chosen but also in the tone in which they are delivered. I notice far too often that children's opinions and feelings are discounted or even dismissed as being irrelevant. Nothing could be more disrespectful to a young person. Unfortunately this behavior teaches them how to be disrespectful to others in turn.

There is no age where respect is not appropriate. From birth to death we must all show respect to one another. We need one another in order to raise a happy family, to run a successful business, or in fact to form a healthy society.

When we address one another, we should look the other person in the eye and smile, being sincere and kind in delivering our messages. Intention is an unspoken form of communication which is quickly discerned and often times misunderstood. For people with low self esteem, almost any statement can be perceived as threatening. As adults, we need to be mindful of the delicate nature of a child's mind and feelings.

I find it interesting to hear what young people have to say. What is on their minds is important, not only to me but more significantly, to them. Understanding and being compassionate to youth and their feelings is one of the most underutilized forms of communication. Paying attention to what others are saying raises our awareness of how they are feeling. This attention also is a way of demonstrating that we in fact do care about what they are saying. Of course this is a two way street between any two people.

Young people learn from their parents and teachers. Older teens can also have a strong influence over younger youth. These influences can be either positive or negative. Learning to make responsible choices is a factor of what and how we as adults behave and function as a role model.

Learning to make friends is completely dependent on successful communications. At an early age we learn the merits of sharing and being nice to one another. We also learn how it feels when we are treated badly or disrespectfully.

As we move through life, it is important to remember that including young people in as many activities as possible forms an educational model which prepares them for adulthood. Learning the rules of sports, the etiquette of the dining table, the protocol of conducting business and so many other necessary life skills are all started at an early age.

In this season of the year where rebirth is on our minds and in our eyes; as we get our hands into the soil of our gardens; as nesting instincts guide us through Spring; perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of good communication. If we see ourselves failing to communicate in a kindly way, we could think of being more civil, more kind and more compassionate. If we are mindful of respecting all members of society and valuing all opinions, young and old, we will undoubtedly grease the wheels for a happier and healthier society.