It’s a digital world – and parents are trying hard to decode it.

Does the following sound familiar?

Your child’s opposable thumbs do backflips across a smartphone. Their text message replies consist of hashtags and smiley emoticons. Call it #millennialspeak, where a crop of 176 emojis has multiplied to over 3,000 expressive graphics. Most of which you don’t have a name or interpretation for, but you still try to “ LOL” with the best of them.

In 2015, half of all comments on Instagram included an emoji. Facebook Messenger was a viral goldmine, too, sending and receiving over 5 billion emojis a day. Does that tally deserve a “thumbs up,” “twinkling hearts,” or “sad face”? You decide…

So, with all those digital emojis going around, it’s no surprise that sometimes conversations with your child resemble a robot-like connection. According to academics, online chats and text messages have eliminated important elements in human communication.

“A face-to-face conversation involves verbal communication, whose meaning can be affected by a person’s tone of voice,” says Psychologists World.“Intonation, volume and the stress placed on particular words can change the recipient’s interpretation of a statement completely. Even non-verbal signals, known as body language, can alter or reinforce a person’s message.”

It’s safe to say that our interactions mirror, most often, a one-dimensional stare-down with a blue screen. And, long-term repercussions have surfaced.

In a study published by Oxford University Press, 800 secondary school teachers held back students who exhibited a limited vocabulary. The research was cut and dry: these students weren’t reading for pleasure, and grown-up conversations were too few.

Laura Freeman, who first reported on the study in The Sun, boldly asked, “How do you question, how do you articulate, how do you rage, howl, rebel, kick back — all the things a curious teenager should be doing — if you have no words in your arsenal? If your entire ‘vocabulary’ is restricted to the emoji palette on your smartphone?”

Referred to as a “word gap,” studies suggest youth are frustrated by a crippling limitation – the inability to match internal emotions and impulses to outward wordplay. Digital devices have slowed down reading and comprehension levels – even providing a barrier to thought.

So, what’s a parent to do?

From Minding the Gap to Filling It 😊

Here are three ways to break the digital divide between parent and child to help put communication and connection first.

Create a Media Plan

According to, digital consumption shouldn’t override your values and parenting style. Just as you would set limits on a nightly curfew, create tech-free zones around meal times, after-school homework, and bedtimes. Have face-to-face conversations with your child, or video chats, to encourage language development. Back-and-forth dialogue stimulates the brain much more than passive, one-way interaction involving a screen. Finally, trade emojis for educational apps to spur your child’s critical thinking skills. Check out Common Sense Media for age-appropriate apps, games, and programs.

Meet Them in the Middle

You also have to let kids be kids. Be a co-pilot in their world, not just an authoritative figure. Ask them what specific emojis mean (particularly the ones they use most). For even more fun, have them quiz you on everything they just described. It’s a great bonding moment and shows that you were listening intently. It also creates opportunities for more conversations. If you really want to go the distance, check out, a treasure trove for these emotionally charged icons and what they represent.

Consult with a Coach

We understand – it’s hard for parents to put down devices too and be present without feeling stressed. Hello’s Family Chatters Program teaches parents the necessary skills to prompt and guide productive conversations that will help kids be able to communicate with anyone in any situation. That includes texting, emailing, and good old face-to-face dialogue. By learning from a master conversationalist, you’ll get the jumpstart you and your family need to succeed.

Teaching communication skills in our digital world has never been more difficult or more important. When parents spend time talking to their children, kids not only learn the art of conversation, but they also expand their vocabulary and views, and they learn how to express themselves, ask questions and listen. All of which opens up many future opportunities for kids in their lives….😉.

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