Social Media

Failure To Close The Loop, Or Ghosted?

Delaney Ruston, MD
March 22, 2021

The other morning as I did my 10 minute morning mindfulness (to work on my focus, posture, compassion, and more), my mind was, of course, doing its job….wandering. I thought of an email I recently got from a teen and wanted to make sure to let them know I received it.

text conversation

Breath in, breath out.

A new thought popped into my mind, “closing the loop,” and soon after, my session was over.

This got me thinking about how we decide when a string of back and forths has reached a satisfactory endpoint — i.e., the closing of a loop. How do we each differ in what we want, expect, and do?

Given the different dynamics over the various platforms, such as Snapchat, texting, and email, this topic can be exponentially more complex for our kids with their complicated social webs and the added factor of much less in-person time due to COVID. Online interactions can be the only clues to understand an interpersonal dynamic. Is someone not responding because they are busy? Or are they “Ghosting” you?

Later that day, I told my husband that I was thinking about this topic, and he remarked, “It is simple when you say thank you to someone, they say you’re welcome, and you have closed the loop. But it is confusing via, say, email because you aren’t sure if they got it if they don’t respond, but then how many back and forths do you do to feel complete. You don’t want your email full of, ‘Sounds good, ‘Got it, etc.”

I like the thumbs up or heart emojis on text for precisely this reason. You can end the back and forth, acknowledging that you’ve read the text.

Today I discuss “closing the loop” and digital etiquette, in general.  Below are thoughts and ideas from my family and quotes from kids from all over the country. ** Reading one or two of these quotes to your kids can be a key to unlocking a fruitful conversation.

This topic started brewing in my head some months back when I noticed a new behavior. I work with tweens and teens on different projects, and we communicate a lot by email. I know they have many things going on in their lives, and sometimes they don’t tell me that they received my email and I found that I had this little nagging feeling that I just needed to know. I decided to write in my emails things like, “When you get this, can you write back in the subject line ‘Crushing Creativity.’ Or another time, I suggested they put ‘Delaney is cool.’

It worked great. I would get their little ping back that let me know they got the email, so I was happy, and they said they were fine communicating like that. And to boost, they got a little laugh out of what I was writing.  

Concerning my work, I feel the need to confirm that I received an email, even if no reply is needed. I still err on the side of writing things like  “Got it.”  I think, in part, this comes from my appreciation for getting those types of short responses when I email other people.

For me, closing the loop goes beyond just this type of situation. My modus operandi is to try and get clarity with people, from small things like a work question to bigger things like understanding why a girlfriend and I became distant.

It is always hard for me to live in limbo about things I care about, which are first and foremost the people in my life. I work hard not to leave people in limbo. I am not perfect at this by any means, but I work at it.  

I brought up this topic with my two kids, and they said that they, too, feel this need to close loops and explain things, even though it can be burdensome sometimes. My daughter said that she often feels bad that she does not close the loop. Yet, she counters her guilty feelings by reminding herself that she is usually the person to reach out to others more than many of her friends do.

And do my kids always ping me to let me know they received my email? Nope, sometimes but not as much as I would like. I recently asked them what little signal I should give to let them know a specific email is crucial for them to respond. Tessa said, “Mom, it is easy,  just write “Really important, please respond’ in the subject line.”

I am starting to do that now. :) In fact, yesterday morning, I wrote that in the subject line of the email I sent them asking permission to include them in this article.

Recently I asked young people, “When you send a text/ Snap/ emails, etc. do people respond? In what ways do you reply/don’t respond? In general, do you ignite conversations more or less than others?

16-year-old boy

“I typically start the conversation. Also, when texting or calling, I try to pretend like they’re right in front of me talking to me because I don’t want to make them feel bad by just responding with “k.”

Typically, I want a response, even if it’s “okay.” I at least want them to know they got what I sent them.”

16-year-old girl:

“When I send a text, Snap, email, etc., people generally respond. I’m not the biggest starter of conversations online, but I’m much more likely to start a conversation in person. I will always respond in some way to somebody that reaches out to me, though.”

17-year-old girl:

“I get anxious if someone doesn’t respond via Snapchat. But it really bothers me if they open it and don’t respond. The other day, I tried to get in touch with a friend who didn’t open my Snapchat or respond to a follow-up text or pick up a FaceTime, so I actually called him. He didn’t answer the call, but he called back 10 minutes later.

When I picked up, I said, “Are you mad at me?” He said, “No, why?” I told him that he hadn’t responded to any of my communication since last night. It turned out he had his phone off because that was the only way he could finish his homework and then have a solid sleep. He had just turned on his phone and decided to call me back since that seemed like the quickest way to get me, and he thought something was urgent since I had tried to reach him so many different ways.”

18-year-old teen girl:

“I try my best to keep up with friends even when I am busy, and when someone writes, I respond that day, if not immediately. I try to write to people when I would have time to focus on having a conversation since it's difficult when I am trying to do other things and text someone at the same time.

If someone doesn't respond immediately, that doesn't bother me since I know people are busy. But if it's been a few hours and someone doesn't respond, I get really stressed out that I said something wrong! But the people I'm in touch with now almost always respond at some point, so I normally get nervous for nothing ;)”

16-year-old boy

“When I contact others, I try to be engaging by being informative while also asking questions. I find that asking questions in emails, texts, etc., often yields a more enthusiastic response and responses more frequently in general.”

15-year-old girl

“When I am writing a text, email, Snap, etc., to someone, I sometimes get anxious about whether or not they will respond because it is “normal” to leave people on “read” or opened.

On Snapchat, I usually feel inclined to say things like “ok” to end the conversation formally, but on text, I don’t feel like I need to say that because they cannot see that I read it. Sometimes when you leave people on “read,”  it can be seen as rude or ignorant, so usually, people feel pressured to say things like “ok” and “lol” at the end of conversations. Also, I have an easier time texting my friends and don’t worry as much about my grammar or what I’m saying. But I do sometimes worry about this when writing to another student or teacher.”

**For those parents, who like me, don’t use Snapchat, leaving people on “read” means that the person can see you opened the Snap, i.e., the message — “Opened” means the same thing.

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What are your habits and goals regarding closing the loop?
  2. How does it make you feel if you see someone has opened your Snapchat or read your text but hasn’t responded?
  3. Is there something you would like to work on regarding this topic?
  4. Is anyone doing something that is not working for you, and you want to try and have a productive talk with them about it?

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

Click here for information about Dr. Ruston’s new  book, Parenting in the Screen Age

Subscribe to Dr. Ruston’s Screenagers Podcast.

More Like This

Podcasts And Books I Recommend Right Now
March 29, 2021
Social Media

Podcasts And Books I Recommend Right Now

Feelings of compassion have been intensely visceral for me this year. It has made me reflect on books and podcasts that have influenced me in the far past and the near-present. Today I share a few that inspire compassion and insight that you can listen to or with your kids, or they can read or listen alone.

Pressure For Pics In The Pandemic
February 9, 2021
Social Media

Pressure For Pics In The Pandemic

The ways girls (and boys) are getting asked for sexually provocative photos and videos and how to help with a conversation — especially during Covid.

The Rabbit Hole of Social Media Just Got Deeper
December 21, 2020
Social Media

The Rabbit Hole of Social Media Just Got Deeper

I predict that based on the huge success of TikTok, the new similar features on Snapchat and Instagram are going to become very popular. Today I talked to some teens about these new services.


parenting in the screen age


Parenting in the Screen Age book cover