Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Another thing parents aren't teaching their kids

Well, there are plenty, aren't there? But this is about internet/email etiquette. Or lack thereof.

The tale starts about a year ago, at a day camp. My girl met another about her age. They struck up a friendship and exchanged email addresses. Now my girl is not a big emailer. She prefers to write letters and decorate them with colored pencils and stickers and such. (To those of you who might have a daughter waiting for a letter from her: I didn't say they always get mailed in a timely manner.) But she emailed this little gal a few times. And what did she get in response?

Fw: fw: fw: blah blah blah

Never a personal email. Never even a comment attached to a forwarded email. Just quizzes and jokes and such. And never, ever, with the headers stripped. Man, the email addresses I could have collected if I'd wanted to... but never mind that.

Now, if you send me those things occasionally, don't think I hate you. Because if you are sending me those things, we have a real relationship. We email or otherwise communicate in other ways. Not this girl. She added a name to her email list and that was that.

My little girlie tried to be interested. But she lost it at the quiz that, by asking questions about various characteristics, determined how much the reader is worth. So, for example, certain hair colors had higher or lower $ values. So did ages. Etc. Answer the questions, total up the $ values and you know how much you are worth.

She didn't get it. She didn't think it was funny. She didn't know how to respond to it. I never analyzed it to see if a tall, blonde, skinny girl turned out to be worth more than a short, chubby brunette. We just deleted it.

So, a friendship that could have been nice never got off the ground because one person mistook the act of forwarding email with having a relationship.

Why aren't parents teaching their kids not to do this stuff? It can't be because they don't understand the problem: I am older by far than most of my kids' friends' parents (got that?) and I understand it. Do they like getting boatloads of content-free email? I doubt it. So why don't they teach their kids not to send it?

The emails stopped a while ago; we figured the two just weren't compatible and left it at that. But she popped up (in person) in another venue recently and wants to get together. I have mixed feelings about it, but my girl wants to give it a go. So I am trying to help her answer the question (if it comes up): how come you never answered any of my email? The best I can come up with is: if you'd sent me anything personal, I would have. But, nothing you sent me ever seemed to need a response. Of course, spoken in a gentle tone of voice with a friendly smile.

I am not against electronic communication. I maintain many friendships primarily through email. (And yeah, I know I owe a few.) I participate in a few message boards and I have blogging "friends" with whom I check in frequently. It's not about the medium. It's the message, or the lack of one.

So a silly quiz every now and then is probably OK. But not all the time. And not exclusively that. Because that is not how friendships are built.

What does the future look like, when no one knows how to converse anymore?

Is a pseudo-friendship conducted via impersonal email better than no attempt at friendship at all?


Anonymous said...

I remember being about E's age and I had a penpal. I would write nice long newsy letters with lots of questions that she could answer. Each time when she did write back it was with two sentences. How are you? I'm fine. I couldn't figure out why she would waste a stamp. :)


Sandy said...

I doubt this girl is going to ask your daughter any questions about unanswered e-mails. She probably doesn't even remember what she sent or who she sent it to, she was just forwarding things. Perhaps they could be real friends or perhaps your daughter will see that they have nothing in common, which seems likely considering the content of those e-mails. Friendship requires listening as well as talking and when all you do is send forwards, you're doing all the talking. When I have a 'friend' like that they get added to my banned list, I'm sorry to say. Interestingly enough, that has never happened with an 'online friend', only with 'real life' friends.

HomeGrownKids said...

Oh great post...a post similar to what I've wanted to write for a long time, only not about children- ABOUT ADULTS!!!!

Why aren't the parents teaching their children - because in my corner of the world the parents are guilty of it too!

It's so annoying! Don't even get me started about FB and twitter!