Hello, Anybody Out There? Part 1

Not hearing back from their grown offspring really bugs parents, but help is on the way! That’s why I sat down with Dr. Elizabeth Wolfson to learn some eminently do-able ways to improve the communications gap.

Whole books have been written about the best ways to talk to your adult children. Deborah Tannen, in particular, is known for You’re Wearing THAT? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation and I Only Say This Because I Love You: How the way we Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout our Lives. And then there is the avalanche of online articles with such titles as, “Six Things Your Should Never Say to your Grown Child, ” “How to Talk WITH—not AT—your Adult Children,” and “Hints for Communicating with Adult Children.”
      But many parents never get the chance to talk to their adult children—diplomatically or otherwise--because their offspring simply don’t return their calls. Or texts. Or emails. For every daughter who speaks to her mother daily, there seem to be a hundred who are basically incommunicado. And these are not the estrangement situations! The younger generation’s lack of responsiveness is a major, major sore spot with parents, one that leaves them feeling frustrated, hurt, and angry. “He only calls when he needs something,” “It’s so hard to make plans when she doesn’t respond,” and “When my friends ask, ‘What are the kids up to?’ I have to make up some vague answer.” It’s ironic that just when we have so many ways to stay in touch, silence ensues.
     Do the rules of civility no longer apply to grown offspring or have the rules changed radically? According to Dr. Elizabeth Wolfson, a psychotherapist in private practice and Chair of the Masters in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University Santa Barbara, it’s both. “As a parent, you are still your children’s one and only, and perhaps for that reason they feel they can be more casual, less polite, in their communications with you. It’s likely you are with them as well. But it also true that texting has changed everything and the old rules of engagement no longer apply.
      “Anyone under the age of 35 is texting not phoning or even emailing,” according to Dr. Wolfson. “Moreover, this form of communication has thrown out all the pleasantries, such as “please,” “thank you,” a sign-off, or even a signature. And according to the rules of texting, no answer simply means the recipient is busy. It’s not a referendum on your relationship. While to you not getting a response, let alone a timely one, may be unbearably rude; to your offspring it’s an accepted aspect of the medium. You may yearn for what you think of as human contact—to them texting is human contact.”
      In our next post, we’ll discuss outreach techniques that work. Until then you might want to recite the Serenity Prayer or, if you still want to hear a real voice, phone your Realtor. She’ll call you back.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Elizabeth Wolfson, PhD, is Chair of the Masters of Clinical Psychology Department at Antioch University Santa Barbara. She also maintains a private psychotherapy practice in which she works with people of all ages and backgrounds. To contact Dr. Wolfson, please call 805-564-6642 or email her at ucspcscs@cox.net.

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