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Your Teen’s First Cell Phone: Help Her Avoid the Risks of Texting

Text messaging can be a fun way for adolescents to communicate — but texting carries risks, too. To help your adolescent avoid texting problems, consider these important adolescent-texting tips.

How should I talk about texting with my teenager?

Your adolescent may be more digitally savvy than you are, but a lack of maturity can easily get him or her into trouble when using technology. That's why it's important to talk to your adolescent early about texting and proper use of cell phones. Before you start a conversation, get to know the technology firsthand, then ask your adolescent:
  • Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission? Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?
  • Has anyone you don't know ever sent you a text message? If so, what did you do about it? How did he or she get your number?
  • Have you ever communicated with someone you met online through your cell phone?
  • How many numbers do you have stored in your phone? Do you personally know all of these people?
  • What features do you use on your cell phone? Can you show me how to use them?
  • Who would you tell if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?

What are the risks of texting?

Texting can pose potentially serious physical and emotional risks. Talk to your adolescent about:
  • Cyberbullying - Cyberbullying refers to sending harassing texts, emails or instant messages, as well as posting intimidating or threatening Web sites or blogs. Receiving bullying text messages can make an adolescent feel unsafe and lead to school absences. Discuss cyberbullying with your adolescent. Encourage your adolescent to talk to you or another trusted adult if he or she receives harassing text messages and to consider options such as rejecting texts from unknown numbers. Explain to your adolescent that it isn't appropriate to send harassing text messages to others.
  • Disrupted sleep - Many adolescents send and receive text messages after turning out their lights and going to bed, which can interfere with a good night's sleep. Even moderate nighttime texting can greatly increase the risk of long-term fatigue. Consider keeping your adolescent's cell phone out of his or her room at night.
  • Sexting - Sexting refers to sending a text message with sexually explicit content or a sexually explicit picture. This type of texting can cause emotional pain for the person in the picture, as well as the sender and receiver. Explain to your adolescent that text messages shouldn't contain pictures of people without their clothes on or kissing or touching each other. Make sure your adolescent understands that sending this type of text message is considered a crime in some areas and that the consequences could involve the police and suspension from school.
  • Texting while driving - Research suggests that distractions such as texting may be an even greater threat to adolescents than to other drivers. Peer influence also may play a role. The more passengers in the car, the more likely young drivers are to use cell phones while driving. Talk to your adolescent about the consequences of texting while driving. Monitor your adolescent's driving behavior, and set clear rules and consequences — such as revoking driving privileges if your adolescent texts while driving.

How do I set appropriate limits on my adolescent's use of text messages?

Start by talking to your adolescent about how much he or she texts. You can also review cell phone records to see if your adolescent is sending or receiving late-night texts. Working together, set an appropriate limit for your adolescent's use of the technology. You might also have your adolescent pay for the cost of his or her texts with allowance money or by performing chores or working at a part-time job. Explain to your adolescent any exceptions, such as texting with you or other family members and texting during emergency situations.

Also, let your adolescent know that you'll periodically check his or her phone for inappropriate content. The older your adolescent is, the more often you may need to check. You may also be able to use software to monitor your adolescent's text and picture messages. If your adolescent isn't willing to follow the rules and expectations you've set, consider removing your adolescent's ability to text or send pictures through his or her phone.

Pay attention to warning signs that your adolescent may be spending too much time texting, including:
  • A drop in grades or other academic problems
  • Skipping activities, meals or homework to text
  • Weight loss or gain

What else can I do to help my adolescent text safely?

Understand the types of security settings that are available on your adolescent's cell phone and use them appropriately. In addition, remind your adolescent that any text message he or she sends can be shared with the entire world, so it's important to use good judgment. Discourage your adolescent from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying or damaging someone's reputation through text messages — and have an honest discussion about the consequences of poor judgment.

Texting can carry risks for your son or daughter. Monitoring your adolescent's texting habits and setting appropriate limits can help prevent problems down the road.

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