In past years I was involved in parent training programs and working with youth groups. Most of the work in those groups and programs centered around 'better communication'. I remember doing a workshop for parents entitled "How to TALK so your kids will LISTEN!" and later doing a similar workshop for youth on "How to TALK so your PARENTS will listen." Most of those efforts brought parents and their children together to be more effective communicators and at least be aware of what they were doing in regard to speaking and listening to each other.

More recently, I am considering providing a awareness workshop for parents and/or youth, or anyone for that matter entitled "IS Anyone REALLY Listening? and/or Is ANYONE REALLY TALKING?" My counseling efforts of late have often been challenged by clients who SAY they have problems communicating with either children or spouses or others but who have major challenges in developing and using communication skills, at least ones we have considered useful in the past.

Communication in the past 15-20 years appears to be largely consumed by electronic media. Social media, texting, emailing, twitter and related "tools" have overtaken our ability and even willingness to communicate in words, face-to-face with others, adults, children, spouses, ANYONE.

I am often amazed when I am having lunch with friends and look around the restaurant to notice how many of the individuals (apparently some couples, or friends, or family?) are busy tapping away on their cell phones, ipads, and other electronic media devices. Now, don't misunderstand, I have a cell phone, computer and other electronic media devices and find them to be extremely useful in getting or staying in touch with others and love ones. However, there are lengthy periods of time I am NOT texting, messaging or tweeting (which I choose not to do at all) others and am talking in words, out loud to clients, family or friends.

My counseling efforts (which span almost 48 years at this point) are often complicated by the presence of cell phones and other devices either in the specific session or within the lives of those with whom I am working. The time spent on electronic media must come from the 24 hour day we have and many often say they never have enough time to get all their work, projects or other efforts done anyway.

In a recent workshop I attended, I was negatively impressed by the number of participants in attendance who were constantly involved with cell phones and other electronic media and were not, or only partially tuned in to the presenter at the workshop. I thought at first they could be taking notes, but it became clear quickly the majority were on social media, texting, tweeting and otherwise communicating with others who had nothing to do with the workshop at hand. I was, nonetheless, very disappointed, especially this was a 'professional' group of individuals attending for 'credit' and who were paying only partial or little attention to the task at hand.

Which brings me to 'communication with others'.  IS anyone REALLY TALKING to significant others? AND, is anyone REALLY LISTING to other meaningful people in their lives? I am beginning to wonder where this NEW COMMUNICATION STYLE is leading us as a future generation. I am also predisposed to believe that eventually, we (even as professionals) will be struggling with having a meaningful conversation with anyone. And parents with children? Maybe that is getting worse than ever due to the statistics related to youth communication on electronic media. Parents often are willing to allow and even encourage use of cell phones, etc. to be able to 'stay in touch' with their children. The fact MAY be, we have only provided them with a method to distance themselves even more than ever from us as parents and unfortunately, provide them with the ability to connect with others who may not be the influences we would choose for our children.

IT IS JUST MY OPINION, as is this whole writing, but maybe we need to take a step back and look at where we stand with communication and electronic media, etc. Ask the question, "What would I do if I had to give up a day (24hrs) without electronic media?" Ask yourself if you could actually leave your cell phone home for a day and go about your activities without 'constant contact' with the people on that list. Is this an ADDICTION in the true sense of the word? IN MY OPINION, I would vote to add electronic media to the list of things we call "ADDICTIONS" for which many would have to have help to overcome. BUT, IT IS JUST MY OPINION.

Thanks for listening.

Steve J. Leatherwood, MA, LPC, NCC, CT/RTC Author of "Choosing to Maintain Control of My Life", "Getting Back to Basic Values: A Series".

Thirty or so years ago, my wife put a ‘hat button’ in my Christmas stocking with the words, “Oops, I Forgot to Grow Up!”  Her effort at that point was part of an on-going family joke about how much I enjoy ‘being a kid’ and often play music, joke, watch comedy shows, and have several ‘hobbies’ involving playing with ‘big boy toys’ (cars and trucks). We all laughed and knew she was having fun with me since I did, in fact, become an adult in the mid-1960’s after graduating from college, marrying her and moving a couple hundred miles away from my original family home to start my first real job after college.

While I was in college, we were married (a month before her 18th birthday) and we both had jobs to support our small apartment and other expenses while I finished college.  Later on, we both attended more college programs (self-funded) and maintained jobs to pay for our education, children and living expenses.  We did NOT return home to our parents or have any idea they would rescue us if we didn’t ‘make it’ in the real world.  We did not consider it as option to FAIL~!

We had both graduated from high school with job skills sufficient to obtain various work assignments and jobs to earn money.   She had taken “home economics” classes which involved learning to sew (she made most of her own clothing), cook, balance a checkbook, manage a family and make a household budget as well as change a tire on a car if she had the need. I was involved in “agriculture” classes which were year-round programs teaching carpentry, bricklaying, welding, electrical wiring, gardening, study of farm animals (including judging contests) and plumbing essentials. We both were involved in “typing class” (we could take four years) probably called ‘keyboarding’ today but learned to type in COMPLETE SENTENCES, and to SPELL CORRECTLY.

In short, when we graduated from high school, we had working skills we could use to go out into the world of work and qualify for basic jobs to pay our expenses.  Not necessarily our CAREER, but JOBS to earn money. As teenagers we, as well as most of my friends, had jobs to earn our own money. I worked at a “service station” which, in the 1060’s was not only a gas station where I would pump the gas, but a place to check the air pressure in customer’s tires, add water to radiators, check oil levels, and wash windshields! My wife worked as a salesperson in a local clothing store and became their champion gift wrapper at holiday times. In addition, she had the ability to type, take shorthand and file records which made it easy for her to qualify for jobs in insurance offices and the local hospital. 

So, what’s the point? Well THIS IS THE POINT. After spending 47 years as a psychologist and counselor it has become disappointingly apparent to me the youth in recent years have no clue where they are going or how they are going to get there. It reminds me of the “Oops, I forgot to grow up” button my wife gave me years ago. Increasingly we find young adults age 18-35 returning home to live with their parent(s) after they have failed at college, have been unable to locate a job they are willing to perform, not able to afford a home of their own, and basically just older children. Sometimes they bring along a ‘mate’ (not necessarily married) and maybe a few children (their own or others) and assume their parents (the grandparents) will provide for everyone since they have no idea what they will do for work and are unable or unwilling to find work.

Some of my friends think there are not many such cases but current statistics place a number of about 33% on the returning home group. Almost half of the high school graduates who enter college will not graduate. It is well known some of our universities ‘over enroll’ freshmen students with the assumption that half of them will be headed home at mid-year. Considering the whole college student body, about one-third will drop out each year.  And most of these students, although they graduated from high school (in order to get to college) will NOT have any work related skills to become employed and will need to return to local community colleges to learn some skill and will depend on their parents to continue to provide them a place to live, food, college expenses and necessities.

The idea of writing about this concept came to a head recently when I heard about a father who was continuing to fund a cell phone for his son, age 35, who was in the military. I began to wonder just how long the father could continue to provide for his son since he must be nearing retirement age and approaching a ‘fixed” and limited income himself?  I wondered if the son would someday be aware of the need to pay for his own phone and also, wondered if he even understood what it meant to be RESPONSIBLE for his own luxuries as well as his necessities? It wasn’t clear the son even knew how the cell phone was being funded and I wondered, if his father died and the bill was no longer paid, would the son be dumbfounded? And, would he even know how to begin the funding of his own expenses, whatever they were?

Where did we miss the boat on this concept?  I know that generation after generation it has been said the kids of the next generation just cannot be understood. The “Big Band” generation thought the “Rock ‘n Roll” generation was out of their mind with crazy music and dancing. And the “Beatles” and “Beach Music” generation couldn’t believe the “Hip HOP” revolution and so it goes. BUT this is really different. This IS NOT about music, dancing, style of dress and television programs. This is about SURVIVAL IN LIFE. And we are rapidly approaching a generation of ‘aging children’ who may not be able to survive (much less take care of us old folks!) in the REAL world.

I am not suggesting we simply cut off our older children truly in need of assistance at some time in their lives. HOWEVER, it is important for children to begin learning about working for a living, becoming responsible for their own expenses and actions, and planning for some future life of independence from their parents.  As parents, we do NOT do any service to children by allowing them to dodge these basic essentials. People (ADULTS) need to be able to earn a living, be responsible for their own lives, and survive independently of their parents. Am I confused or what? Someday, I think, the parents will be unable to continue to fund the lives of their aging children and I wonder what will these children do at that point?

Here are just a couple suggestions to parents of budding young adults (consider at least the ages of 16-21):
1.  Make sure your aging child (or children) understands it is necessary to have a job in life to support themselves and/or their family, if they decide to have one at some point. Encourage them to think about what they might like to ‘become’ and what kind of work they might consider for their future. Ask them where they hope to be in TEN or FIFTEEN years as an ADULT. You might be surprised about the answers, but ASK!

2.  Make sure teenagers (at least by age 16) have some understanding of personal finances and budgeting with even some part-time job to earn money and pay for their own luxuries (ie. cell phone!) If they are old enough to drive a car, they are old enough to pay the cost of driving and owning one (gas, insurance, oil changes, etc.).  Setting up a savings or checking account is a good idea while understanding ‘check writing’ is pretty much a thing of the past, DEBIT cards are not and having an account where they can deposit money to pay their own bills is a good exercise in ADULT RESPONSIBILITY and CONTROL.  It is a good LESSON IN LIFE! In addition, it is important to ‘run out of money’ and realize someone puts money IN so they can take money OUT (preferably THEY deposit THEIR money).

3.  Make sure your teenagers rapidly becoming adults have a clear understanding about some of the basic expenses they will incur as soon-to-be adults (transportation, insurance, rent, utilities, INTERNET, CELL PHONE, etc.) so it will not come as a surprise to them when you turn over their ‘personal cell phone’ account to them at age 18 (or at graduation from high school) and expect them to pay their own bill. The same goes for car insurance and other expenses. If you are old enough to be a “soldier” and join the military you are old enough to pay for your own car and insurance and have a real job.

4.  Make sure you work with your teenager becoming an adult to consider how THEY will pay for their own necessities, can afford COLLEGE if they choose to go and how to fund a place to live on their own. It is NOT helpful to allow children who are about to become adults to believe life will go on as usual, money will always be automatically available for expenses, they can always borrow a car, and ask for money to date or ‘go out’, etc.  THIS is NOT HELPING them to become an adult who can live on their own and survive in the real world.

5.  MAKE SURE you do NOT feel guilty as a parent for expecting your child to “grow up” and become an adult. We have traditionally considered “adult” about age 18, since that is the age a person can become a member of the military and fight for their country. I would suggest that is STILL a good age to consider turning over at least some of their life to them and as much as possible. Even college students can work at jobs AND attend college. Many adults in college classes I have taught over thirty years are working all day at a full-time job and attending college in the evening. It CAN be done. By the way, the process of learning to be “responsible” probably needs to be fairly well set by age 21, since that is the other end of the “teen-becoming-adult” range.  If not by then, WHEN?


Cell phone use for calling, texting, emailing and internet browsing has become a major factor in the downfall of relationships and undermining trust and connectedness.  If you are in a relationship of any kind (friendship, marriage, dating) be very careful how much you use your cell phone or other computer devices during time you spend with your partner.  Here are some suggestions to consider:

SET IT ASIDE:  Don’t have your cell phone, computer, iPad or other technology even present while you are sharing time with your friend, spouse or significant other.  The mere PRESENCE of a device is a problem whether you actually use it or not.  Leave it in your car when in a restaurant and don’t charge it in your bedroom.  SET IT ASIDE!

RE-THINK SOCIAL MEDIA:  How much Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. do you REALLY need and would your time be better spent focusing on and talking with your significant other.  Actually SPEAKING to each other is really good and can build trust and respect in a relationship. If you do text later when you are not together, TEXT YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER and don’t focus on people less important.

MAXIMIZE CONNECTING IN THE TIME YOU DO HAVE TO INTERACT:  In truth, we really only have about 6 hours outside of work and sleep to interact with a significant other person.  It is vitally important to plan events and projects together, spend time talking about future ideas and goals and even paying bills together.  Landscape projects, painting rooms, taking walks or exercising together can build and positively affect a relationship.

SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!:  We learned in kindergarten to share with others.  Sharing will build confidence, trust and respect in relationships.  Share household responsibilities, car keys, checking/savings accounts, ownership of vehicles, etc.  While these are only ‘tokens’ of TRUST it is TRUSTING and will build and solidify trust and connectedness in a relationship.

 NEGOTIATE EVERYTHING!:  ONLY ONE RULE for relationships and that is it:  Everything is Negotiable except Negotiation!  Everything!  This means that each person feels fairly treated and gets some of what they want most of the time.  It is important to believe that your significant other will consider your needs and wants as well as you considering those of the other.  A critical factor in trust and respect. 

Well, HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!  It’s that time again to make some promises and commitments for the New Year.  Sometimes we make a plan and stick with it for a little while and then it fades away.  BUT whatever you have planned to accomplish, here is another little suggestion that might help CUT THE STRESS in your 2017 year by CUTTING THE CLUTTER in your life. 

This is one we pretty much have agreed to do at MY house so we will see how that works! You might call it “Should I KEEP it? or Should I LET IT GO?”.  Most of us have things like this around the house.  Clothes that are too small or worn out, furniture that isn’t necessary or is broken, and maybe even just empty cardboard boxes that keep stacking up.  Well, time to ask: KEEP IT or LET IT GO!???

Here are a couple questions I think may help ME to make the decision and maybe will help you too:

1.  Have I used or worn this item in the past year?

2. Will I need it to wear or use in the near future, REALLY?

3. Is this something from my past that I really LOVE and has some memory value for me?

4. Has anyone in my household needed or used this item in the past year or will need it in the future?

5. Does anyone else in my household LOVE this item or does it have special meaning for them?

6. Do I need it for TAXES or LEGAL purposes? (by the way, I think seven years is enough of that!).

7. Is it more important to keep this item than free up the space it occupies to use in better way? (think CLOSET, BASEMENT and GARAGE)

8. If I really needed to replace this item in the future, would it be very costly or hard to replace?

9. Does this item serve any useful purpose in my life today and will it ever be useful again?

10.If I did decide to LET IT GO, would I really miss it in six months or would I even remember it?

Ok, so here’s the deal.  Ask yourself the questions and answer YES or NO to each one.  There is not a right or wrong answer, only for you and whether you need to KEEP or LET GO of the item.  ANY “YES” answer to any question is probably justification for keeping the item around either for yourself or someone else.  BUT if you have a “NO” answer to all TEN questions, it probably needs to GO! Start a big box, bag or truck load to go!

Thank goodness our area just started a recycle pickup every two weeks.  We have a “special recycle can” and all the recyclables go in there and out to the pickup every couple weeks.  That has been especially helpful for cardboard boxes for us.  But there are other options for LETTING GO.  Most areas have Salvation Army centers that take clothing, furniture and such.  Habitat Houses also take used furniture and household items and so do other non-profit agencies and they can sell them to make money for their organization.  YOU get the SPACE you wanted and THEY get the FUNDING they need.  It is a WIN-WIN. 

BEST WISHES TO YOU IN THE NEW YEAR.  And start checking out the STUFF you can LET GO! Clear up the CLUTTER and REDUCE YOUR STRESS!!!  Usually having some clear space is less stressful and it also gives you a chance to organize the things you REALLY USE and NEED in your life.  HAPPY 2017