Call Your Mother: Exploring Changing Communications


During the holiday season, and often on Sundays, it has been a tradition for adult children to pick up the phone and call their parents, especially their mothers.

Many seniors find it difficult to wait for these calls or to receive messages in other mediums, including text messaging, emails and Facebook posts. Even seniors who use new forms of social media find it hard to understand why their children can’t communicate verbally on the phone or in person.

Is this a generation gap or the end of verbal communication as we know it?

There have always been differences in the way generations express themselves.

Parents found it hard to understand teenagers who screamed and fainted at the sight of Frank Sinatra and then Elvis Presley. The introduction of Motown and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand shocked many parents. Rock ’n’ roll, disco and now rap music have caused many parents to raise their eyebrows, hold their ears and question their children’s decision making. When it came to fashion, bell-bottoms, mini dresses, bikinis, tie-dye shirts, and now torn jeans make many parents cringe.

But social media and teen adoration of cellphones may be the tipping point for many parents, especially grandparents and seniors.  

Seniors, and many baby boomers, find it hard to understand how people no longer communicate through letters and old-fashioned conversations and how so many individuals are constantly attached to their cellphones.

The definition of interpersonal communication has changed because of the wide-scale acceptance of digital technologies. Technology has changed how people communicate or interact. All technologies are based on the goal of social interactions and connection in mind, but different generations use different technologies to communicate and are not always cognizant of the effect on others.

This is especially true of communication between Generation Y and the baby-boom generation because Generation Y is the first digital generation. Generation Y comprises late adolescence and early adulthood, while the baby boomers represent their parents. These two generations, in addition to the traditionalists or the silent generation born before 1945, often face communication challenges due to their reliance on difference modes of communication.

These communication issues are difficult to explain to seniors or traditionalists even though explanations are often offered while alternative forms of communication are encouraged.

Many seniors are encouraged to join the new social media movement, learn how to communicate in a different way and not expect the traditional phone call or visit from their children. One senior recently asked a psychologist how to use social media and struggled with what to communicate in a text to her son and granddaughter. This senior clearly stated, “Phones are for calling people, not sending messages and smiley faces. I don’t know what to say,” as she struggled with the small keys on her phone attempting to send a text.

Is it fair to explain to a senior that phone calls may be a thing of the past and coerce him or her into learning how to use social media and accept this form of communication?

Are parents and seniors dealing with a fad like rock ’n’ roll or is social media a communications revolution that is here to stay?

The new form of social media is most likely here to stay. Do we, as a society, accept that phone conversations no longer will occur and Thanksgiving or other family gatherings will consist of texting, Snapchat and taking pictures that will appear on Instagram and Facebook?  What advice can we give to seniors in our lives about accepting the new social media platforms while setting acceptable guidelines for teens and adult children when it comes to appropriate communications in social settings?

The new forms of communication cannot be ignored, and seniors in our lives can’t just close their doors and hold their ears as they did when their kids were playing loud music. It seems that a compromise may be in order.

While sitting down for your next family gathering, why not first take pictures that may appear on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or sent via email to friends. Then take out your favorite camera and also take a few family pictures to commemorate the evening. Ask friends and family to place their cellphones in another room until dinner is over. This will be challenging for many attending, but assure everyone that the phones are secure and, in a short time, they will be able to check their texts and look at their newest Facebook posts and Instagram pictures.

Also an important commitment to remember on holidays and weekends is to call your mother. You may also substitute the call for a personal visit where you can give her a hug, sit down together and simply talk.

You may be surprised how much you and your mom will enjoy the old-fashioned form of communication. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.


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