As I sat listening to my grade 5 students share their experiences and thoughts on today’s communication methods, I couldn’t help but wonder what my 11 year-old self would have had to say about all of this.

Growing up, my house backed onto the houses of two other families with kids around my age. To save my sisters and I from the 5 minute walk around the block to visit one another, our dads used to lift us up and pass us over the fence to be able to play together. When we got a little to big for that, holes were cut in the fences to allow us to easily pass between the yards. It was a common occurrence to run up to each other’s’ back doors to see if the other was free to play. A lot of my free time was spent outside playing.

At the start of Grade 5, I moved to a new school. I no longer lived in the same neighbourhood as the kids I went to school with. Communicating with each other outside the regular school day made phone conversations a must. I spent a lot of time chatting with friends on the phone – ironic for someone who now avoids phone calls whenever possible. Customer service live chat option? Yes please!

MSN Messenger

In my conversation with my students, it was clear that the communication methods they use serve many different purposes. Not only is Whatsapp/Apple Messages their means of checking in with mom and dad; but, also there way to keep in touch with friends near and far. (The nature of life as an expat.) I was reminded of my own time as a teen spent chatting on MSN Messenger. It made me wonder…were my parents/teachers as worried about me back then, as adults seem to be of the kids today?

Within the group of 16 students I talked to, it was clear that there experiences were quite varied. While most have their own phones, there were a few that still use their parents devices to communicate with others. Some have restrictions such as time limits in place, while others have free use of their devices. While most use Apple Messages or Whatsapp, only a few have access to other Social Media Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. What they had to say was quite interesting and has encouraged me to engage in further discussions regarding this topic. I’ve included a few snippets from the conversation below.

Whatsapp – the most commonly used communication tool by ISD Fifth Graders.

“With friends in the US, it was hard to keep in touch. I used to write letters back and forth to friends and family but it was too slow.”

“I use Whatsapp to communicate with friends. I have an hour limit on that. It’s really helpful to stay in contact with friends in Holland and in China. I have noticed that sometimes you say things you wouldn’t say to a person’s face in Whatsapp and this sometimes leads to conflict. In the group chats – people have the ability to kick you out and then talk behind back. This happened to me with some of my friends from China. My friends shut down and don’t talk to me anymore. I’ve noticed that sometimes you talk to people differently in messages than in school. You have good conversations – but don’t talk in school.”

Messages is also frequently used by ISD Fifth Graders with Apple devices.

“I am in a messages group with 50 people – my year group from Spain. People say a lot of bad things and kick each other out of the group. There was a lot of conflict in the group. So now there is a teacher is in the group. But I don’t think that’s right. It’s not the problem of the school.”

“I use Whatsapp and Instagram to communicate with friends and connect with someone who is no longer at the school. I use Instagram to message my friends and to post my drawings.”

“My parents won’t let me have Instagram or Snapchat until the age limit.”

“People overuse their phones sometimes. They are always chatting with people but not creating deep connections.”

“I am unsure about whether time limits are a good thing or not. They might just make kids want their technology more.”

In this discussion there were a few themes that emerged that I would like to (need to?) dig further into:

  • Bullying/exclusion
  • Parent restrictions
  • Age restrictions
  • The role of the school
  • Technology dependence

As I reflect on this conversation, one of my biggest takeaways was that these students seemed to be very aware of the role technology plays in their lives. They are critical consumers/users, who reflect on and learn from their experiences. They all seemed very comfortable talking about their use of technology and the benefits and challenges of living in a digitally connected world.

While yes, communication methods do look quite different than those of the past, based on my conversation, I will borrow from the words of Lydia Denworth when I too conclude, “the kids (who use tech) seem to be alright.”