Tough Topics for Teens: The E-Mails You Send

E-mails are great! They are faster than snail mail, cheaper than phone service, and a great way to pass on information and get answers to questions. But if you want to communicate like a king, you should read the Primer for Princes, the book of Proverbs. King Solomon did not have e-mail (as far as we know) but he understood some basic principles that the e-mail generation must learn. They are true for talking in person, on the phone, or on-line. Good communication is not natural – especially e-mail communication. Therefore, you should pass all your written messages through…

The Exam of Emotion

“I think Wally is wrong. So, I fired him a message right back and told him so!” -Bubba from Bismark 

Good to be open and honest, Bubba, but how will Wally interpret your message? Perhaps, that is why there was no e-mail in Eden. God’s ideal is for people to speak face to face. Electronic communication can cause emotional damage that would never happen if we were speaking in person.

There are two problems. The first is the quickness with which we can respond. Waiting to see someone or writing a traditional letter takes time which allows emotions to settle and mellow. It is amazing how different communications are when the person is present. Now we don’t even have to type a full e-mail. You can send bits and pieces to someone in a chat room or by instant messages. Although that is an advantage when you need a quick answer to a problem, it also can add to the damage done by e-mailed emotion. And once you hit “enter,” there is no bringing back the missile you sent.

The King included this advice in his book, “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him” (Proverbs 29:20). Quickness of response can impede our ability to be sensitive to the “tone” of an e-mail.

Secondly, we underestimate our ability to express emotion with a keyboard and to express it without looking the person in the eyes. Ask yourself, would you say the same thing in the same way, if the person were staring you in the face? Therefore, when you are upset, worked up, or even justly angry, work to learn the discipline of passing your communications throughTthe Exam of Emotion. Remember, the wise man said, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

The Test of Truth

“I never talked to anybody who really knows her, but, she seems like a committed believer.” –Chuck from Chattanooga

One of the great challenges in written communication is to present ourselves truthfully. Of course, believers would not intentionally want to convey that they are something they are not. But sometimes it is easy to word a sentence, ask a question, and convey a tone that really does not represent us. There are no facial expressions (Emoticons don’t count!), no body posture, and no gestures to send non-verbal communication. In written communication, people can sound young when they are old, sound spiritual when they are unconverted, and sound mature when they are far from it. So, when you are e-mailing or chatting with Christian friends, you must constantly pass your communications through The Test of Truth. How are you presenting yourself? The king gave his son this goal, “For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips” (Proverbs 8:7).

The Filter of Friendship

“He writes to me every night. I love his sense of humor. I feel like I can tell Herman everything.” –Tanya from Toledo

There are more teens hurt by e-mailing relationships than we probably realize. The truth is Herman may be writing to several girls that he thinks are “just friends.” Of course, he isn’t going to tell Tanya that he is writing others, because it will hinder the fun of sharing problems, ideas, complaints, and other feelings. When suddenly, Tanya hears that Herman is “going out” with Gertrude, Tanya is devastated.

It would have been far better if Herman and Tanya both had passed their communications through “The Filter of Friendship.” Christian men must treat women as if they were their sisters, protecting their purity and their emotions (1 Timothy 5:2). A true friend respects the limits of proper communication. That includes the quantity and type of communication. Here are some simple questions to help evaluate your communications with a person of the opposite sex:

1. Is the person reading more into your e-mails or instant messages than you are intending? Perhaps the best way to evaluate it is, if suddenly one of you started dating someone else would the communication have to stop? Would one of you feel hurt, disappointed, or betrayed? The Filter of Friendship should lead you to control the level of e-mail communications.

2. Would I be happy to be seen talking in person with this person as much as I am e-mailing? If the answer is, “No way, people would think we are dating!” then you are communicating as a boyfriend and girlfriend without the commitment and exclusivity of dating. This is dangerous and hurtful.

The beauty of e-mail is that you can get to know someone to a certain point without being “seen” as a couple in public. The danger is that you could hurt someone or be hurt by someone because of the private nature of e-mailing, chatting, and messaging. Far better to limit communications with the opposite sex to avoid the uploading and downloading of emotions until you are ready to begin e-mailing that person solely and exclusively.

Bob, Chuck, and Tanya are fictitious, but the points they made are real for you and all teenagers who are the first generation to e-mail, chat, and message. The medium of Internet communication is relatively new, but the good principles of God’s Word still apply. Make it your goal to be like Solomon who “sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth” (Ecclesiastes 12:10). So from now on, when you fire up your computer and put your hands on your keyboard, the challenge and choice are yours in the E-Mails You Send.