Yesterday, I appeared on CBC’s Newsworld to discuss text messaging in light of the recent trial for the stabbing death of 14-year-old Stephanie Rengel. I am worried that parents who aren’t tech-savvy will freak out and take a clampdown stance on teens. Let’s face it, as a culture we hold this systemic mistrust of teens, so when any deviant teen activities make the news, parents’ mistaken ideas are re-enforced further.
Teen expert Sarah Newton advices we don’t “track teens online activity” and I agree. Opening dialogs and building trust (in the Rengel case, about the nature of love, jealousy and controlling relationships) is where to focus your energies.
My teen girls are more receptive to chatting about very charged or sensitive issues by instant messaging with me or their dad. It allows me to send them to links about teen issues, AIDS, relationship abuse, knockout drugs and other issues that are specifically geared to teens, and say things like, “Have you seen this?” ” Did you know that? It sure shocked me!” And even, “Do you know anyone with that problem?”
But there are other texting benefits, too:
- Teens hanging out with their friends are embarrassed when you call about ANYTHING (“Are you a momma’s boy?”) but you can text to ask things like, “When will you be home?” or, “What day is your ortho appointment?” Since texting is private, they have no problem answering you.
- Parents often have a “tone” in their voice that invites “tone” back. Texting tends to remove those and the hostile body language that triggers teens and parents alike.
- You are communicating in a style your child prefers. They grin when you text “OMG, this meeting at work is going on and on and on!!!!” You seem human and reachable.
- Writing adds that small gap of time that allows people to think and compose rather than react. We backspace and choose our words, composing a reply that is less reactive than what might have come out of our mouths in the heat of the moment. More of the salient points and less of the dissin’ get communicated.
- And my favorite: love notes! My teens say the NICEST things to me in their text messages. “I love you mommy” is the best note to get from a 15-year-old. They are far more likely to type it than say it.