The holidays brought some big changes to our house. Both of our kids were given gifts that opened the door to that four-letter word: T-E-X-T. Yes, my son was gifted with a texting plan upgrade on his cell phone and my daughter received an iPhone Touch that I thought would see her listening to music non-stop, but instead it has her texting her BFFs, even without a texting plan.
I'm excited that my kids are growing up and taking on new responsibilities and they were SO excited about texting with their friends. But, I had heard horror stories from other parents about how texting can get out of control. Hurt feelings, staying up all night texting, grades slipping, and texting at the dinner table were just some of the complaints. Here I was all freaked out about the big S-E-X talk, but talk around the rules of T-E-X-T can be just as important.
There are any number of articles out there on the pros and cons of children texting, like this article in Parents Magazine. I've heard parents say that texting is destroying their relationship with their kids and I've parents say that they talk more with their kids now through texting than ever before. Regardless, I've heard from many moms and even a friend who is a child behavior specialist that setting ground rules and boundaries right up with your kids is the best recipe for texting success.
I attended a great seminar that Katherine Walker from Telion Solutions presented a few years ago called "To Text or to Talk." In the workshop, Katherine shared some pretty scary statistics and dangers of texting. How it actually erodes a child’s ability to build deep relationships with other people, including their family. The biggest takeaway for me is that texting can't take the place of personal interaction within the family. From my point of view, you can’t have Family Fun and create memories if you aren’t interacting with each other. However, these issues can be addressed by setting up boundaries around texting that are agreed to by both parents and kids. Here are some of the highlights of the workshop on how to establish rules for kids and texting.
1. It’s easier to set the ground rules and expectations before they even start texting. It’s always harder to take something away so establish the rules beforehand and have everyone agree. For example, no texting at the dinner table, no texting past 10 p.m., don’t go past a certain number of minutes each month, and if grades start to slip, the texting stops. I've seen some parents even draw up a Usage Contract and have their kids sign it. Clearly state the rules and punishment if the rules are broken. No surprises.
2. Texting is a privilege not a right. Parents, it’s OK to ask your kids to earn this privilege, especially if you are footing the bill. Maybe your kids already earn an allowance by performing certain tasks or behaviors. Treat texting the same way.
3. Texting is a great communication tool between parents and kids. Knowing where they are and having them respond instantly with that information is wonderful and helps ease your anxiety and give your kids more independence. Share with your kids how this is an important lifeline between you both, so it can’t be abused.
4. For kids, texting is all about their sense of worth, their identity. They feel connected, they feel cool, and they feel important when texting their friends. Growing up is stressful as they find their identity. Let them have at it, within boundaries.
5. You need to explain textiquette to your kids before they start texting. Emotional conversations, nasty comments, and lengthy conversations should never be handled with text messages. Also, for any social media platform, make sure they understand that once you press send, it’s public domain.
6. Parents, put the phone down. Our kids emulate us. Be a good role model. If we parents are constantly checking email on our phones, checking in with the office or even texting while driving, then we are ignoring our children and demonstrating the exact behavior we are trying to discourage.
How do you handle texting with your kids? Has it helped or hindered communication with your kids?
Sue Kirchner is a family fun coach, blogger, kids party planner, and weekly contributor to Patch.com. Sue and her family fun ideas have been featured on TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs, as well as her own family fun site ChocolateCakeMoments.com.