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Listening is an important skill that not only builds friendships, but is an important part of humility and wisdom. An important question to ask as we minister to Instant Messengered, texted out, teched up young people is "how does all the technology impact their skill and willingness to listen to one another?". I have to conclude that the more time our kids spend online, the less real listening they do.She looks right at me when I talk. She nods and smiles. Every now and then she’ll ask a question. There is no doubt: my friend is listening to me. Think about the last time you had a conversation where you felt like the person you were talking to was really listening. It feels so good! They show caring, respect, openness, commitment–all through the nod of a head. Listening is an important skill that not only builds friendships, but is an important part of humility and wisdom—all those good qualities we try and build into our lives. An important question to ask as we minister to Instant Messengered, texted out, teched up young people is "how does all the technology impact their skill and willingness to listen to one another?". I have to conclude that the more time our kids spend online, the less real listening they do.

Let’s face it, shared meaning, or understanding what a friend or buddy is REALLY saying, is not a high priority for most IM’ers, texters, and social networkers. The emphasis is placed on getting the message out there, not on making sure someone else understands it and shares it. At the same time, good listening is hard to do online. Think about how you show someone you are listening–a nod, eye contact, “mm,hm”, a forward lean—-rich nonverbals that suddenly disappear in a virtual world. To make matters worse, few kids are committed enough to sift through all of a friend’s rambling self-disclosure to figure out what their friend is really thinking or feeling. Most teens report that while they sometimes post long, meaningful blogs on their MySpace or Facebook page, they rarely read the long blogs their friends write. Instant messenger isn’t much better as most young users multi-task and ego-cast their way through conversations filled with spurts of significant self-disclosure.

It is possible that we are raising a generation of young people who are not skilled at and do not value listening. At the same time, we’ve seen plenty of clues that our young people are desperate to have someone take the time to hear what they have to say. That’s where we come in. We need to help our students value good listening at the same time we teach and role model good listening skills.

Here are a few ideas:
1. Do a Bible study on listening. There are a ton of passages that talk about how important it is. As you are preparing, think through why God clearly calls us to be good listeners—truly a good topic for a youth group discussion.
2. Teach your kids listening skills. I know its sort of a “duh” topic, but we can’t assume they know how. For the past 20 years I’ve been teaching college freshman in Basic Communication and am always amazed at how excited they get when we talk about the very simple skill of listening.
3. Talk about how you show you are listening online. Its different, it takes more effort, and it is not something most users think of. Talk about what it looks like and why its so important. Help them value the skill.
4. Role model good online listening. When you are online with your kids, paraphrase what they are writing. Do things to show you actually understand and care about what they are typing.
5. Provide spaces for true, face to face listening. As you put together programs, figure out how you can include one on one, face to face time with your students. Then, when you are together, fight the urge to talk, ask a few questions, look them in the eye and listen.

Today’s kids communicate in a whole new way. While we can get excited about the cool, new trends, we need to make sure we help them value the most important skills. After all, without listening, all we have is a bunch of resounding gongs and clanging cymbals that are just as annoying online as they are in a noisy market square.

Peggy Kendall http://pkendall.squarespace.com

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