(Originally posted May 15, 2005)
Most parents roll their eyeballs when you bring up instant messaging, but I think there is something exciting to explore here.
My husband and I have home offices and so we work at our computers at wonky hours. Our girls will often IM "when’s dinner?" from the kitchen to us upstairs in our offices But other times the conversations get to be pretty long and they often get richer. Initially it feels silly typing to the person who is on the next floor, why not just talk? But the effect is different.
Maybe it is something like the old advice to take your kids for a drive when you tell them about sex so you don’t have to make eye contact. Could it be sometimes it just feels more comfortable writing something intimate instead of saying it? I certainly feel more attentive when I IM with the girls than when we talk over the hustle and bustle of the kitchen while fixing dinner, with the radio playing and multiple conversations going on. IM chats when sustained past "when is dinner" seem focussed and go deeper than idle chatter. Maybe "chat" is a misnomer.
I have had very meaningful conversations and gained insights into the lives, hearts and minds of my daughters that I may not have had otherwise. Why? Because it is their medium and their preferred way to communicate about some of this stuff. And again, while it doesn’t replace personal interaction, I believe it can enhance relationships.
My kids now IM with their Omi who is 84 and lives out-of-town. They keep in touch with her more than they would if they relied on picking up the phone or sitting down to write a letter. And these quick after-school chats are fresher and more authentic. Don’t give up on IM’ing so quickly. You might find some treasures there if you dig.
Do you use IM as a way to communicate? What other non-traditional ways have you found to connect with your kids the way they want to connect?