Parenting the Texting Generation

Originally written as a letter to parents on March 11, 2011

Technology is an incredible tool for learning and communication. It has opened up access to the world in new ways and allowed us to maintain contact at an incredibly responsive rate. At the same time, technology – especially texting and social media – can sometimes create challenges for our children as they learn to navigate the complex social world of adolescence. With this letter, we hope to enlist your help in having thoughtful conversations with your children about using technology safely and responsibly.

Cell phones are becoming our “third arm.” According to a recent Pew survey, 75% of 12-to-17-year-olds own cell phones – and four out of five teens admit to falling asleep with their cell phones in hand. Of these teens, 88% are “texters,” with half of them sending over 50 messages a day. A full quarter report that they have been harassed or bullied via texts or phone calls. This same survey shows that just over half of parents look at the contents of their child’s cell phone.

Young adolescents need guidance and limits, offered by loving adults. Here are some thoughts to consider as you help your child make decisions about technology use. Is your child texting and/or actively using social media sites?  Who do they keep in their contact list? What types of conversations are they are having? What types of messages are they sending and receiving? Below are some common mistakes that children and teens often make online and on the phone.

  • Sending hurtful, embarrassing or threatening messages
  • Using inappropriate or vulgar language in texts and messages
  • Sharing personal and/or inappropriate pictures and videos
  • Pretending to be someone else while texting or chatting.
  • Accepting friend requests from strangers
  • Not utilizing privacy settings on social networks
  • Sharing login or password information
  • Believing that what they post is anonymous . . . or that the message will only be seen by the person they texted or messaged!

We encourage you to use this list to open up the lines of communication with your children regarding technology. What have they experienced? Do they watch peers engage in risky behaviors? How do they feel about it?  We hope that you will maintain an ongoing dialogue with your children about their “online” social life. Consider setting specific limits about text and cell phone use. Know what social media sites they are using. Keep an eye on their “friend” and “contact” lists. Talk through strategies they can use if they are the recipient of an unwanted text, message, or picture – or if they feel pressure to send such items.

Here are some great resources that you might find valuable as you talk with your kids about responsible uses of technology:

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