The task of “growing a filter” is not an easy one — it takes practice, patience, and time. We all know people who obviously nailed this developmental milestone: those who never seem to say the wrong thing, use the wrong tone, or find themselves caught off guard and showing a raw or revealing facial expression. They seem to catch every impulsive thought and word in their super-sized and durable filters before anything surfaces and are always mature, polite, and polished.
We also all know those poor souls that seem to have giant gaping holes where their filters should be. They often say the first thing that comes to mind, no matter the audience or circumstance; use snarky and sarcastic tones; or roll their eyes and make faces at inopportune times. When we witness these rather awkward moments, we cringe on the inside, feeling a mixture of embarrassment and pity, try to avoid eye contact, and sometimes even association.
Most of us, thankfully, fall somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes. As a school counselor, one of my missions when working with Middle School students is to educate and challenge them to nurture the growth of their filters.
This growth project is no easy task, of course; biology and an immature frontal lobe are mighty foes to the procurement of a reliable filtering system. Equally challenging, I believe, are the mixed messages they now receive regarding the importance, or even necessity, of using a filter. Our American culture continues to shift in its tolerance for the spontaneous rant, the raw, and the rude — we don’t seem to value thoughtful discretion much anymore. There is much more license for adults in general to leave their filters at home. Examples abound on the nightly news and in the lives of our kids. Our media is full of caricatures who are popular, or at least intriguing, precisely because they don’t have filters and “say it all,” while being given credit for “saying it like it is.” Logically there is quite a difference between these two, but they are more frequently presented as one and the same.
Think about how confusing and challenging it must be for emerging tweens to practice using their filter, when it appears that so many grown-ups in their world seem to roll filter-less.