Taming the texting teen

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent
Q: My daughter sent more than 400 text messages last month! I was furious, but she told me that her friends send a lot more. How can that be?

A: Four hundred text messages might seem like a lot - after all, that's more than 10 a day. But in this case, your daughter probably is sending fewer than her peers. According to Nielson studies, teens between the ages of 13 and 17 send an average of 1,742 texts a month, which breaks down to more than 50 a day.

When do they find time? Texting is for today's tweens and teens what talking on the phone was for their parent's generation; and many kids can text as fast as they can talk. If you imagine every comment your child makes in a phone conversation as a text, you can see that it's easy to send 10 or 20 texts in just a few minutes. If your teen can spend an hour on the phone talking to a friend, it is conceivable that the conversation is now replaced with 50 text messages - or more - especially when text messages consist of just a few words or short 'net lingo.

But are 50 texts a day appropriate? Ultimately, an acceptable text limit should not be about how many texts your child is sending, but how much total time is spent texting and whether her messaging habits are interfering with a healthy life balance. Each family will set its own limits, figuring in school performance, social interaction and general behavior of the child.

Not sure where to start? When setting text boundaries, consider these:

Enforce text-free time.

Setting aside text-free time is a good way to create some boundaries. If Sundays are family days, try enforcing a no-text rule. Cut off text messaging privileges during other family-oriented gatherings such as dinner, evening TV time, or game night. Setting an evening limit on phone calls and texts is a good idea. No messaging or talking after 6 p.m. for younger tweens or after 9 p.m. for teens is a reasonable place to start.

Who are they talking to?

If your teen is texting a variety of different friends and family members, the conversations can add up. But kids who obsessively text just one person may be edging toward trouble - especially if it's someone of the opposite sex. Check text records to see which numbers appear most frequently and talk to kids about who they are talking to.

How are you paying?

If you're trying to give your child a text limit based on cost, you may be on dangerous ground. Text messages can cost up to 20 cents each - to send and receive - and to keep track of hundreds of texts each month is almost impossible. Most experienced parents of teens realize that an unlimited text plan is a must for their family. These plans cost an average of $20 a month for unlimited text messaging and teens should be responsible for footing the bill.

Balance other interactions.

Even if teens are texting their fingers off, they need to work in other communication methods - socializing face-to-face with friends, writing letters to grandparents, and picking up the phone to make plans. Texting may seem easy and convenient, but having a variety of communication skills is important for future successes in school and in life.

Hang it up at night.

Middle of the night texting is popular with many teens who seem to get more wired as the sun goes down. Create a family charging station for laptops and cell phones and require that all devices be checked in before bed.

Still out of control?

If your child's text behavior is interfering with schoolwork and healthy social interaction, talk to your child about the behavior and help him or her take a break. Contact your cell phone company and see what options are available for blocking or turning the text option off.

Q: My toddlers are too young to surf the net, but I want to use this time to learn about technology before they get too tech-savvy. Where do I start?

A: You're smart to capitalize on this time and begin exploring the world of technology before your children steamroll ahead. Not only will it educate you, you'll become more confident as you set boundaries and guide your children.

Here are several great ways for all of you to explore technology.

Explore age-appropriate games. Even if your child is in preschool, exploring different online games and programs will help you know the resources available and help you become familiar with searching. Check out pbs.org for toddler-oriented games designed for children 3 and up.

Ask your teen for help. Aren't sure how to download photos to your computer or set up a Facebook account? Ask a teen to help. A babysitter or family friend will be glad to show off their tech skills and help you sign up for an eBay account, or for a digital music service, or burn a CD.

Find a site for moms. Look for websites that are specifically targeted to you. Some sites, such as the newly-launched ColumbusMomstyle.com, have discussion boards, classified ads, daily news, local event listings and educational articles.

Join a social network. You'll find that many of your friends are already on ColumbusMomstyle.com, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It's easy to set up and a fun way to connect with other parents.

Find a great resource. Many online resources can keep you in touch with the ever-changing tech landscape. RosieKnows.com is a site with online video lessons on how to navigate sites like eBay, Facebook and Wikipedia. CommonSenseMedia.org provides reviews on video games, websites and family media. NetFamily News.org offers weekly kid-tech news for parents with information on the developments in the tech world.

Sharon Miller Cindrich is the mother of two, a columnist and the author of E-Parenting: Keeping Up With Your Tech-Savvy Kids (Random House, 2007). Learn more at www.sharoncindrich.com, or send questions to Sharon@ sharoncindrich.com.

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