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The Technique of “Twitter Speak” May Create More Effective Communication With Your Teens

“Twitter Speak.” What is it and how will it help communication with your teenager progress more smoothly? If you are a parent who has ever been confronted by your child responding with short, disinterested comments when you attempt having what you believe to be a “regular” conversation, the information to follow might be key.

Being a teenager can be a confusing time for many youngsters who are trying to find themselves and figure out where they fit in in the world. The teenage years are when developing children form an identity for themselves, and begin to understand the world around them and function more independently. To enhance this independence, teenagers wish to receive information that pinpoints their curiosities instantaneously and provides immediate answers. Many times, avoidant behavior or disrespectful dismissal towards parents during a normal conversation can become commonplace. Often interpreted as frustrating and troublesome by parents, this does not have to be routine. “Twitter Speak” (credit is given to Ms. Patricia Schissel for coining this term) is a term that I have found to be very helpful when parents are trying to get certain points across to their teenagers. While parents care for their children and wish to include as much information as possible when discussing important topics, often what is heard by the child is the first few sentences of speech while the rest becomes white noise and is tuned out. Once the white noise “switch” is turned on, the response from your child might be one-worded, brief, or result in him/her walking away or avoiding the conversation altogether.

Twitter is a social network that was created to allow its users to “tweet” or speak in very short, succinct phrases that convey the user’s thoughts/feelings/emotions. The idea behind Twitter is that viewers receive the most pertinent information, without any added detail. “Twitter Speak” is the real life application of the term “tweet.” “Twitter Speak” can be a very useful tool to use when conveying important information to youngsters because it focuses on the most crucial points and eliminates any additional details. The additional details that you might provide are exactly what become white noise and dismissed altogether by the teenager who is looking for immediate gratification and answers. For example, when parents are making a point about the importance about being home at night for a certain curfew, instead of delving into the detail that causes your own mind to loop (increased risk of being in danger, less sleep at night, car accidents on the road, traffic, less visibility, etc.), it is important to establish the most important point(s) and state clearly to your child something along the lines of: “I want you to get sufficient sleep so I need you to be home by 11 pm on weekends.” When lengthy explanation and details are incorporated into an explicit rule that you are trying to establish, your teenage will hear something punitive, begin to justify reasons as to why none of your concerns should be concerns, and dismiss the conversation. Once this becomes a pattern, your child may begin to avoid all conversation. A question such as, “what did you do at school today?” might yield the reply, “nothing” from your child on a daily basis.

Just as public school curriculum is often “chunked” in special education classes so that material is broken down and becomes simpler for struggling students, it is imperative for parents to also subscribe to this “chunking” technique when speaking with their children. Just as bulleted points are written down as a professor gives a long lecture, these points are crucial for children to receive as well. When too many details that support the main ideas are added into conversation, the main ideas become lost and muddled in the teenager’s mind, and the conversation can go south quickly.

As parents it is our duty to provide our children with information to help them navigate through the world and develop independent skills. However, when too much information is provided children can go into “information overload” and our good intentions become washed away. “Twitter Speak” is a simple way to enhance communication with your teenager and improve his/her social skills. Just as direct instruction is useful in the classroom, we have to be teachers for our children and use the most direct, meaningful speech possible when conveying concerns.

This article was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of the Asperger and High Functioning Autism Association’s (AHA) print publication, On The Spectrum.

Beth Yurman, PsyD, a Licensed Psychologist, and a certified school psychologist in Connecticut, specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT) and related interventions, to treat anxiety and mood disorders in adolescents and adults with extensive background and expertise within the field of ASDs. Her private practice is in Manhattan and Brooklyn, NY. For more information, please contact Beth at

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