Advice From Our Experts

Teens & Texting: Setting Boundaries

In a previous post (Teens & Texting: What Parents Need to Know), I introduced the subject of teens and text messaging, providing an overview for parents to better understand this modern phenomenon.

From the perspective of a health care provider, I would like to illustrate in more detail the physical and mental pitfalls associated with adolescents who spend too much time text messaging and how parents can set healthy boundaries.

This way, when your teen asks, "What's the big deal?" you'll have evidence to support your answer AND the tools to keep the texting in check!

Issues Caused by Excessive Text Messaging

  • Disrupting the Learning Process

64% of teens text during class. Most schools restrict use of cell phones; however it is a moot point when most kids text on the sly, which also raises the concern of cheating and not fully paying attention during class.

  • Bad Sleeping Habits

When parents have set a curfew for the evening but text messages continue to be received at all hours of the night, boundaries are being undermined.

This lack of a real curfew ultimately decreases the quality and quantity of sleep hours. And teens may uffer from increased long-term fatigue from sleep deprivation as a result, further impacting their academic performance.

  • Antisocial Behavior

Texting is a shallow form of communication and can prevent teens from learning how to read other people's emotions and respond empathically. When kids would rather text then talk, it interferes with normal social interaction.

  • Self-Esteem Issues

Texting can erode self-confidence. Teens who consistently use instant communication to seek advice from friends to make simple decisions are not utilizing their own coping skills. Text messaging enables this dependence on friends, when in the normal course of adolescent development, they would be placed in situations where they would be able to practice asserting themselves and forming their opinions independently.

  • Cyberbullying

Teenagers sometimes to break friendships as quickly as they make them. Best friends can become enemies overnight. And even worse, these "frenemies," can be the very individuals on whom your teen has been relying for advice.

In these situations, texting can quickly become harassing or carry threatening messages, causing a situation in which the teen feels unsafe.

  • Sexting

Texting with sexual connotations is called "Sexting." Texting sexually explicit content or pictures can ultimately cause emotional pain for both the sender and receiver.In addition, sending any sexual explicit content constitutes a felony.

  • Behind the Wheel

In California, it is against the law to use a cell phone in the car if you are under 18 years old, and for good reason = texting while driving is dangerous. Research demonstrates that driving distractions are greater for teens. According to the PEW research, 52% of teens stated they text and drive!!

  • Addiction

15% of teens send more that 200 texts a day - one text every few minutes throughout their waking hours. Texting is the first and last thing teens do for the day. Most teens state they can -not live a week without a phone, some say not even ten minutes.

As in the case with any excessive behavior, this volume of text messaging can interfere with a teen's daily life and more important activities such as schoolwork or helping family members.

What Parents Can Do

Teens maybe digitally savvy, but they may lack maturity. Monitoring teen’s texting habits and setting appropriate limits may help prevent problems. Some tips for parents include:

  • Talk to Your Teens

Discuss proper cell phone and texting use before issues arise. Discuss the risks above; many teens are not aware of the possible consequences of their actions. Ask them if anyone has ever sent them an inappropriate picture without them being a willing participant. What would the parent do if they had? Provide your teenager with the opportunity to use situational problem solving techniques before they are needed.

  • Set Limits

Appropriate boundaries need to be set, such as "no texting during class hours."  As well, set limits at home.  Your family may decide to set rules such as "no texting allowed during meal times, family gatherings, religious events, or after certain hours." And, of course, teens should be instructed not to text at all while driving. NOTE: Many cell phone carriers have the capability to restrict texting during certain hours.

Monitor your Teen's Texting

Read texts occasionally for appropriateness. Although teens need a sense of independence and privacy, parents are ultimately responsible for their well-being. Keep a close eye on the usage with your cell phone bill. As with any issue concerning with teenagers, it's important to:

  • Stay involved in their lives.
  • Know their friends.
  • Monitor their usage.
  • Let them know you care and have their best interests at heart.
  • Avoiding being a "Helicopter Parent."

Having sent a child to college, I can speak from experience about how important it is to make sure that while you are setting boundaries for your children, you are also enabling them to become independent individuals. While you want to avoid hovering over your child's every move (hence the term "helicopter parent"), it is also very important that you remain involved in their lives in a healthy, consistent way.

  • How do you strike a healthy balance?

Think about it this way. If you go to a restaurant and open a menu with 20 thousand choices, the array of choices can be dizzying. When the menu narrows down to 4 items, you have a better chance of feeling confident in your decision. When it comes to the health and academic success of your teenager, parents can provide kids with choices but a limited menu of choices.