Texting among children has increased dramatically and has become such an important part of children’s social lives that parents are concerned. Parents frequently know little about the content of the texts and with whom the child is texting. As a result many parents feel extraneous and that texting undermines their influence.
There are some positives to text messaging. Texting can contribute to a child’s feeling of belonging. Being able to text can help shy children become more outgoing. Texting is a concise and easy way to keep in contact with friends, as well as to check in with parents. In an emergency, texting can be extremely important.
Parental apprehension occurs when children become seemingly addicted to texting and less involved in face-to-face communication. Also, excessive texting may lead to poor spelling habits, inability to concentrate, and incomplete school work.
Children report that once they send a text message, they expect to receive a response right away, and if they do not, they often become anxious. Others report that they feel abandoned and unable to give attention elsewhere when they are not “connected.” Texting can also create misunderstandings since the receiver cannot view the sender’s facial expressions, body language, or hear the tone of his or her voice.
How Parents Can Help their Children
What can parents do to balance the use of cell phones and texting with their goal of raising responsible, well-adjusted children?
- Model limited use of technology.
Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote, “Children have always competed for their parents’ attention, but this generation has experienced something new. Previously, children had to deal with parents being off with work, friends, or each other. Today, children contend with parents who are physically close, tantalizingly so, yet mentally elsewhere.”* If parents want to influence their child’s behavior and future success, they need to take time to listen and give undivided attention.
- Be aware of the variety of devices available.
- Decide which type of cell phone, if any, is appropriate for the age of your child.
- Control usage by purchasing plans with limited minutes for calling and texting, or by monitoring your child’s access.
- Consider linking the privilege of phone usage with responsibilities like completing homework, chores, etc.
- Discuss the necessity of using caution when texting or sending photos since they are not private and may be shared with people your child does not know.
- Instill an awareness that sending hurtful or untrue messages can have serious consequences for both the sender and the child or children who are being discussed.
- Take time to express interest in your child’s friends and in the messages he or she sends.
- Limit times and places where your child can use electronic devices since maintaining open parent-child communication is essential. Insist that your child refrain from texting during short car trips, during family dinners, when adults are speaking directly to him or her, etc.
- Encourage your child’s interest and participation in various activities: athletics, drama, photography, art, crafts, sewing, playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, reading, volunteering, etc.
- Provide quality family interaction time by eating together, taking walks, playing games, etc.
- Foster “technology free” times when your child can reflect on his or her life, feelings, friends, and identity.
Advancing technology can make it difficult to guide and raise children today, but with much listening, patience, love and a willingness to provide limits, children can grow into empathic, responsible, healthy adults.
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Used by permission of Leah Davies, M.Ed.
*Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2011), 267.
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