A full 75% of adolescents own cell phones, and a third of those text more than 100 times a day. About 11% say they send over 200 messages every day. Approximately 4% say they have sent a "nude" or nearly nude image of themselves to someone via text, while 15% say they have received such an image of someone else via text.
With excessive texting come a number of problems (e.g., poor dietary habits, isolation from family, sleep deprivation, poor academic performance, etc.). Adolescent forms of communication (e.g., texting, talking on cell phones) make teenagers less communicative (at least with the people they live with). However, in today's world, forbidding all use of cell phones is not only unrealistic, but hurtful. Staying connected with their peers is very important to adolescents.
One of the biggest problems that many parents seem to have with adolescents who text constantly is the lack of boundaries as to what is appropriate and what is not. Adolescents find themselves being able to send messages that they would never dare to verbalize in the real world. This creates a false sense of security, and coupled with most adolescents already inherent lack of realization for consequences can make the entire situation very dangerous. Thus, it is crucial that parents help their teenager determine appropriate boundaries for his or her texting.
How to set boundaries for your texting-addicted teenager:
1. Bullying texts: Help your adolescent understand some of the problems associated with this technology. Despite their increased maturity-level, most adolescents still lack a certain amount of empathy. Help you adolescent understand that reputation damaging and bullying texts are harmful. Many adolescents mistake the anonymity of texting as the freedom to be able to say whatever they want. Let your teen know that once it is out there, there is no way to pull it back in. And it all can be traced back to him or her if someone needed to find out where the hurtful text came from.
2. Cell phone checks: Let your adolescent know that you will be checking his cell phone periodically. This simple fact may serve as a deterrent for bad cell phone behavior. Since most moms and dads pay for their teen’s cell phone, they have the right to check what kind of text is being sent. Your adolescent needs to understand that you reserve the right to confiscate it at any time to check the text log.
3. Restricted possession: Don’t let your teenager have her cell phone on her at all times (e.g., “If we go out to eat, you have to leave the phone at home”). Don’t over-explain your reasons, simply say, “You are a member of the family, so you need to participate during the times we’re together”). Some moms and dads request that their adolescent’s cell phone be given to them during meal time, homework time, and bed time (which prevents all-night texting). Research shows that adolescents who don’t have 24/7 access to their cell phones are much more likely to send appropriate texts.
4. Passing the bill: Require your teen to pay her own cell phone bills if it gets to the point where you need to limit how many minutes she spends talking and texting. This has a way of reducing a teen’s cell phone addiction.
5. Relaxing standards: As a parent, understand that what you believe to be “too much” texting may not actually be “too much” by today’s standards. If your son or daughter is doing chores, functioning well at school, fairly well-behaved, and not completely isolated from family life, it's probably O.K. to relax your expectations around the amount of time he or she spends texting.
6. Sexting: Most parents are uncomfortable discussing anything involving sexual content with their adolescent. Now is not the time to be prudish. Texting with sexual content (i.e., “sexting”) has become a serious issue. Parents should clearly spell out for their adolescent that they will not condone this behavior. Whether the teen is the instigator of a sexual message or simply passing it on, he is equally guilty. Help your adolescent have a clear understanding of the consequences for this misuse of the cell phone (e.g., losing cell phone privileges, legal actions if a sexting message or picture is traced back to him, etc.).
7. Time limits: Make a rule regarding when texting can be done. If your adolescent is texting through dinner, while trying to do homework, or seems unable to separate herself from her cell phone, it is a good idea to set some time limits on texting. Have times in your family when there is no texting allowed (e.g., from 5 p.m. - 6 p.m. for dinner, from 7:00 p.m. – 7:45 p.m. for homework, and again from 10:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m. for bed time).
If you implement the ideas listed above for a period of time, but are still concerned about the amount of time that texting is taking up in your adolescent’s life, contact the phone company for a detailed record.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents