Ten years ago, if you saw a group of teens standing in a circle, ignoring each other and staring at small computer screens in their hands, you’d have thought you were on another planet.
Today, it’s the norm.
And it’s a habit that is impairing young peoples’ real-life social skills.
Author and former high school teacher Michaela Launerts said millennials are suffering a serious lack of social etiquette, because of their dependence on the all-pervasive smartphone.
In a chat to Hope Media’s Katrina Roe, Michaela said young people are being handicapped by the amount of time they spend online. Living their whole lives out on social media, they’re losing the ability to relate properly in person.
“I’ve spent lots of time with many talented young millennials as a high school teacher, and I’ve really seen the impact that being immersed in cyberspace has had on their ability to interact in real life,” she said. “So many kids now in high schools will stand around in circles and they’re not talking, they’re all on their phones, their devices.
“If we immerse ourselves in our online identities, we become detached and less able to perceive how other people are affected by our behaviour day to day.”
To bridge the etiquette gap, Michaela has written a modern-day etiquette book for young women called Girl Code: the Secret to Success in a Digital World—and set up her business Etiquette and co,teaching young peoples’ etiquette courses called ‘Girl Code’ and ‘Guy Code’.
She covers everything from body language and basic greetings, to social media, to things like queueing behaviour, and filtering your conversation.
Families are More Disconnected
Michaela says it’s not just technology that’s stealing peoples’ social skills; modern families have also changed the way young people grow up and develop socially.
“Parents these days are time-poor, they’re busy working,” she said. “They think character education is happening in schools, and teachers think it’s happening at home. Conversations around the dinner table where this stuff was learnt in the past, have for the most part fallen by the wayside.”
Young People Losing Basic Social Skills
Michaela said the digital world isn’t just turning young people into antisocial creatures; it’s also affecting their chances of employment.
In her work in education and also in the beauty industry, she’s observed that young people with charisma are more likely to succeed. She’s also been ‘overwhelmed’ with stories from business owners about their young employees’ ‘complete lack of knowledge’ about basic customer relations.
“I’ve seen a really obvious lack of understanding when it comes to body language, what to say in a job interview, what’s expected, how to create a good first impression, how to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye, how to converse—general, day-to-day things that Gen-Xers and other people take for granted,” said Michaela.
Does Etiquette Really Matter?
For those who think that etiquette is just an old-fashioned set of rules for a bygone era, think again, says Michaela. It’s actually a way of caring for others.
“Etiquette is about making other people feel at ease, being aware of how other people are affected by your behaviour,” she said.
“It really promotes an outward-facing attitude. It’s about being responsible for how you act around other people; knowing how to converse, how to make someone feel comfortable by introducing yourself properly.
“Awkward silences happen all the time, but knowing how to defuse those awkward situations is quite charismatic, and we don’t see it as often now.”
Be Careful How You Act on Social Media
Social media is a space where people are most likely to forget about social rules—which is ironic, considering our online behaviour can leave the most permanent impact.
“I think we need to be aware that we’re creating permanent records of our behaviour online,” Michaela said. “We need to realise that our behaviour now, acting on impulse, could affect us down the track in terms of employment opportunities, the way other people perceive us, and personal branding.
“People are making mistakes online everyday.
“We’re all publishers, broadcasters, celebrities in our own worlds now on social media platforms, and we really need to be responsible with the way we interact on those platforms.”
Michaela encourages young people to look at their ‘digital footprint’ – their presence on all their online platforms – and clean it up.
“Make your privacy settings are up to date, make sure there’s nothing on your social that you wouldn’t be comfortable showing grandma or mum for example, or a future employee. Those things are relatively easy to fix.”