Improving Family Online Communication

Improving Family Online Communication
It was through Facebook that *Tina discovered her sister Tammy was getting married. For Tina it was the last straw. She had told her sister many times that some issues deserved a personal phone call rather than an impersonal messaging system – especially between family members.

Previously, Tammy had announced a death of a family friend by e-mail, sent word of a family member’s serious hospitalization by text and sent a Facebook message of her intent to invite a guest to Tina’s holiday family dinner. For Tammy, online communication was more convenient, but for Tina, who was not always “plugged in” and received the messages too late, it was inconsiderate. So after viewing the engagement announcement, which was one post away from being knocked off of Tina’s front page, Tina decided a public announcement deserved a public response. Needless to say, the situation deteriorated and Tina will not be attending the wedding since the two sisters are no longer speaking.

While technology offers convenient perks in communication, it should not replace good old fashioned person to person and voice to voice connections. Families should consider setting online communication rules and text etiquette; otherwise, like in the case of Tammy and Tina, the consequences can be difficult to overcome.

Here are a few guideline suggestions:

1) Death Notifications - News of a death can be shocking for the recipient and simply “dropping it in his or her lap” can be conveyed as insensitive and even disrespectful. To avoid negative interpretation, take the time to break the news with a phone call –voice to voice.

Following are real text messages that were not well received:

From adult brother to adult sister regarding her pet of thirteen years: “I ran over Gizmo by accident, he is dead, it was quick.”

From adult sister to adult sister regarding a family member: “Jessie died last night. Call me.”

2) Tone - Since emails and text messages cannot translate facial expression or tone of voice, it’s best to call if context is important. Anything can be “read” into even the most innocent of comments, especially when there’s already family rivalry involved.

3) Important Plans- Personal contact should be made when changing or making important plans. As in the case of Tammy and Tina’s conflict, everyone isn’t always “plugged in” and able to get the messages in time.

4) Privacy Issues – Sometimes it’s easy to forget that discussions on social websites like Facebook are never really private. In addition, family pictures that are posted can sometimes cause embarrassment for other family members. Censorship in these cases is suggested to avoid family conflict.

Sisters Amanda and Melinda are working through a problem caused by the posting of birthday pictures.

5) Long Texts –Many times long messages are divided into multiple deliveries that makes it difficult and frustrating to read. Don’t write a “book” to send by text, just use the call "Send" button instead.

One sister received this frantic message regarding her niece:

“Hi, Carly was in a car accident today, she is ok but it was pretty bad. The car is totaled and if not for her seat belt she would be dead. It’s been em…”

The first text cuts off and continues in multiple frantic texts before the message was complete. Needless to say, shocked family members would have preferred to get one reassuring phone call, rather than multiple rambling text messages.

Finally, the most important tip to help families personally and successfully connect in our technological age is this:

Answer the phone!

*All names used in this article have been changed

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