Text messaging. Everyone is doing it. From elementary school age children, to virtually every teenager in sight, and even some of the old gray hair folk that can barely turn a computer on. Just when we started thinking that email was the best thing in the world, cell phone providers started offering text messaging. Now you can send messages, pictures, and videos to anyone, anytime, from anywhere. You don’t have to be at a computer or have an Internet connection. Take a picture of a cool lizard 100 miles from nowhere and instantly send a copy to your neighbor to find out the species and origin. You send your teen to the store to pick up a few things and realize after they are gone that you need a gallon of milk? No problem, send them a text.
There are millions of situations when text messaging, picture messaging, and even video messaging comes in handy. You may have even read stories about teens that used their cell phone during an emergency and it saved their life. How can your argue with that when your teen or older children start begging for a cell phone? As with anything, there are always two sides to a story. A whole list of pros and cons that need to be considered. Recent stories that are quite frankly, very scary include stories of “sexting” (sending sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages via cell phones and other electronic devices). Text bullying, harassment, stalking, the list goes on and on. Some studies suggest that 93% of parents blieve they “know” what their kids are doing electronically. However, more than 50% of teenagers report that their parents do not know what they are doing. Many recent teen suicides suggest that there is a lot parents don’t know.
What starts out as a flirtatious picture between boyfriend and girlfriend can quickly spread through an entire school if the couple breaks up, be found by police when they are going through a cell phone at the scene of an accident, or discovered by an adult when a teen’s phone is confiscated, dropped, forgotten, or misplaced. But this isn’t a problem contained to teens. News headlines report adult school staff using cell phones to “sext” teens, parents “sexting teens”, and adults bullying other adults with “sext” messages. The stories go on and on. We aren’t suggesting everyone stop texting, what we are suggesting is that you talk to your children and teens that have cell phones or use any electronic devices. Tell them about cyber bullying, sexting, and other dangers present, just like you would warn them of the dangers associate with swimming in open waters. Watch your teens behavior be aware of depression, anxiety, changing self image, extreme stress, or any drastic change in behavior.
You may consider creating a parent contract. Have a written contract stating exactly what is and is not acceptable behavior when using any electronic devices. Let them know that you will be checking their phones, email, or any other electronic devices intermittently to make sure they are complying with the agreed upon rules. Set forth direct expectations and consequences. Then use positive parenting skills to provide your children and teens with the sense of safety and security they all need. Don’t be scared of technology, but be aware. Make sure you know at least as much as your teens. Then do what you can to keep them safe.