If you’re a parent, you’re familiar with clipped answers from your kids.
“How was your day?” you ask as your son or daughter returns from school.
“Okay,” he or she will say before thumbing a text.
“Was the field trip interesting?”
“Have much homework?”
Kids are just not that into parents when it comes to sharing information.
So imagine asking your daughter, who was dumped last week by her three-year boyfriend, a question like: “Has the way you see yourself changed because of this breakup? I mean, do you feel any differently about yourself than you did a few weeks ago?”
What reaction do you think you’d get? Astonishment? A look of horror? A frantic search for the car keys?
I did in fact ask this very question recently and received a thoughtful answer.
No, I’m not a Dr. Phil dad or a psychoanalytic guru.
I’ve simply discovered the secret to engaging my daughter in prolonged conversation: Facebook.
We’ve all heard the negatives of social media, especially from those of a certain age. TV personality Betty White perhaps best sums up the dismissive view: “I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.”
But my experience suggests the opposite. Social media — Facebook chats in particular — where you converse in real-time, can be liberating in a way face-to-face conversation often isn’t.
There is simply no way my daughter, were she in the same room, would have listened and responded to the range of introspective questions I posed to her:
“What good might you see coming out of this painful situation?”
“In what ways do you want to be challenged in your next relationship?”
“What kind of needs would you like fulfilled by a boyfriend?”
First of all, these aren’t questions a child will typically let a parent ask. Answers to such personal inquiries are reserved for friends and peers.
After all, mothers and fathers are so much older, and their experiences aren’t seen as relevant.
Then too, in their quest to separate from their parents, kids are likely to feel this kind of probing is a step back toward the womb.
But maybe the prime reason this kind of heart-to-heart is verboten is because, for their entire lives, kids have been trying either to please their parents — or rebel against them.
As a result, in almost any serous parent-child conversation, there’s an undercurrent of self-consciousness. And self-consciousness is the enemy of communication.
Enter Facebook, which upends the dynamic. It removes or mitigates the threat of parental judgment.
Instead of tension in the room, or the close monitoring of my body language, Laura could sit back, comfortable in her own setting, and think about answers to my questions without any prevailing pressure.
On Facebook, it’s disembodied communication. But, strangely, without our bodies present, we can take time to think, to respond, to rewrite, without someone physically hanging on our every word.
It’s almost like Laura and I were discussing characters in a novel or a movie, and somehow examining yourself with that mindset is less threatening and easier, though no less revealing.
Our conversation lasted 90 minutes and was draining for both of us. She for answering the questions; I for sculpting ones I thought most helpful.
Incidentally, I’m not a prying parent, and none of this was intended. My daughter was distraught, as I learned by text, and needed an ear. I knew she wouldn’t be comfortable talking on the phone or even Skyping.
“Thanks for chatting,” Laura said at the end of our Facebook session.
“I enjoyed it,” I replied.
“Me, too!” she said. I took special note of the exclamation point.
Jerry Cianciolo is a writer and also chief editor at Emerson & Church, Publishers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.