How To Reduce Your Child's Texting While Improving Parent/Child Communication
Here's a question I was recently asked and I share it here along with a response to help parents who may be struggling with the same issues:
My 14 and 16-year-old kids are constantly texting their friends. We bought them phones so we could stay in touch when we're apart. But they are so preoccupied with texting their friends, we barely communicate with each other anymore. Any suggestions of how we can reduce the texting while improving our communication?
There are many parents who are fighting for their child's attention these days with various electronic media. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation on media use found that the average 8-18 year-old spends an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media across a typical day. That's more than 53 hours a week. And that doesn't even include texting!
But, texting has taken center stage as the media attention distractor of choice among teens as well as many preteens with phones. While there are no fool-proof solutions to reduce incessant texting, there are a few sound principles you can apply:
1. First, find out how much texting is going on. Find out how much your child is texting in a given month. Most mobile phone plans allow you to see how many texts are being sent from each phone. It is not unusual for a child to be texting daily but when the number of texts each day starts to be counted in the dozens, it may be time to take a closer look.
2. Ask your child about his or her texting habits. Some questions to start the conversation: "Who are the people you text most? What do you find helpful about this type of communication in contrast to using the phone or email? How many texts do you think you send a day? Do you think texting interferes with other important things such as family, studying, etc.? The goal in asking these questions is twofold: to understand what they find engaging about texting and to begin a dialogue about it.
3. Express your concerns. Are you concerned about the amount of texting, how it affects family relationships, the content of their texts or all of the above? Don't use an accusatory approach. Specifically explain what most concerns you and let them respond.
4. Carefully listen to their perspective. You will be able to engage your child in conversation longer if you listen carefully and then try to empathize with their viewpoint even if you disagree. Preteens are trying to teens and have the same privileges. Teens are trying to walk the tightrope between being grown-up and yet still dependent on their parents. Living between these two developmental stages is often challenging for everyone. The more you can send the message that you are trying to understand their perspective and are willing to understand the emotional meaning texting has for them - connecting with friends, being known, have a voice that matters, etc., the more likely they will be to open up and talk.
5. Set boundaries around texting. Identify times when texting is not allowed, such as during conversations you're having with your child, while driving, at mealtimes, during homework, at bedtime and others situations you might deem inappropriate. Explain that these boundaries are necessary in order to keep texting from interfering with other important parts of their life. You might even ask your child to leave the mobile phone at home when you go on outings to avoid the temptation immediately respond to incoming texts.
6. Consider cutting your unlimited texting plan. As a practical suggestion, you might consider getting a new plan with a texting threshold every month - and require your child pay for any overages he or she causes. Tell them ahead of time what the limits are and what the costs will be. Explain that this move is not punishment but giving them responsibility for their choices and an encouragement to make wise choices.
7. Create forced accountability, if necessary. If you suspect that your child is sending or receiving inappropriate text messages and/or photos (often referred to as sexting), you can use a new phone app called Pics Checker that keeps track of what your child is sharing with others. It records every text message and picture sent from a given phone and shares them with you in real time.