A failure to communicate: Debra Fine on why small talk is tough for teens

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If you publish a book for teens, will they get off their phones long enough to read it? That's the question Colorado author and small-talk expert Debra Fine had to ask when she wrote her newest book, Beyond Texting: The Fine Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers. Ironically, the book is about getting teenagers to tear themselves away from the screens in order to have successful face-to-face interactions with other people.

See also: All Talk, Maybe Some Action

"I think that it's almost unfair to teens today, because they are expected to have the same skills with their boss, with their professors, to apply for a sorority, to make friends, to find romance as we did -- and yet they're talking to their friends via text, instagram, all that," Fine says. "So that's what it's for. It's not to tell them what to do, what not to do, but when they want to do it, here's how."

Though Fine is not part of the generation born with technology in their hands, she has a lifetime of experience to pass on to people of all ages. Though methods of communication change, she says conversation skills are a constant. And having a hard time making conversation is a problem for people in all generations. "I was a teenager before texting and I needed this book," she says. "I wrote this book for teenagers like me."

The book focuses on teaching teens the same lessons that she teaches adults, just in a different way. There are also teen-specific issues, like how to address authority figures to help them see you as an equal.

Fine emphasizes that her book is not about getting teens away from their technologies -- she says that's not her expertise and not even her place. But since you can't conduct your whole life on the Internet, she wanted to help the technology generation be successful with the in-person conversations they do have.

Learning how to converse, make friends and be social is something everyone has to do whether technology is involved or not, but Fine says it is harder on young people now, because you can go on Facebook and other social media and see all of the things you are missing out on. It's just another way to feel inadequate.

"You feel you're not part of things," Fine says. "It freaks me out what kids have to go through, and that's not what this book is about. I'm not here to philosophize, I'm here to say, here are some tools to try and make it better."

And she says the isolation that comes from technology affects everyone; it's not an exclusively teenage problem. At 29, for example, her son deleted his Facebook profile because he felt it was getting unhealthy. "He said, 'I went off because all I did was compare myself to other people,'" Fine says. "And he was the football player, tall, blonde all that. He loved high school."

While that's not something she focuses on in her book, it's a good example of why she felt the book was important. She doesn't want to lecture teens on the right thing to do -- just help them succeed in the paths they choose.

"If it makes you uncomfortable but you have to do it, how do you do that so that you do it right and so that it's not that awkward?" she asks. "It's for those moments that do not come easily but you know the right path."

Beyond Texting: The Art of Face-to-Face Communication for Teenagers is available now. Debra Fine will also be offering a one-night class on small talk through Colorado Free University on August 18.

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