Great ‘Texpectations:’ Teaching Kids Balance, Safety in Texting

Does your child show symptoms of the latest digital affliction? Does she experience anxiety, an increased heart rate, diminished attention span, and sporadic outbursts of crying or anger while she waits for her next text?

Far from official, we’ve decided to call this highly annoying—albeit treatable— condition “great texpectations.” That’s right. It’s the feeling of anticipation—both reasonable and unreasonable—a teen might have while waiting for a text. If you have started nodding your head, you’ll also agree that your child’s “texpectations” seem to be outranking just about anything else going on in the family.

For instance, your child might miss or “zone out” on both casual and critical conversations.

Like the warning to get into the family safe room during a tornado alert (true story in my house), repeated requests to finish chores or homework, or the appeal to join the family for dinner.

teen texting parent talking

Kids with unbalanced textpecations know you are onto them and have learned to hide their conditions well. Often a child will nod her head while you are talking and even respond in full sentences. The more seasoned texter will look directly at you and continue to text without ever glancing down at her screen. It’s only later you discover your child didn’t hear a word you said.

Any  jesting aside, there are very real dangers associated with people preoccupied by texting. Family bonds and friendships can suffer. Physical safety can be compromised.

A preoccupation with texting can have tragic consequences. In Alaska a young woman fell off a 60-foot cliff while texting. Another person walked off a pier into Lake Michigan and drown and another fell from a subway platform onto the tracks while texting. Many have been killed simply texting, walking, and stepping into traffic.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. in 2011 for injuries suffered while walking and using a cell phone or some other electronic device.

If the texting is out of control in your family, we hope these tips will open the discussion around texting balance and safety.

1. Diagnose and treat the problem. Talk about what you aren’t talking about. It’s likely that the endless texting and mumbled responses bother you but you’ve learned to live with it. Call a family meeting to discuss the situation and how to improve communication. Allow your kids to contribute ideas and solutions.

2. Go dark one day a week. We’ve said it repeatedly. We highly recommend going dark (shutting off all technology) one day a week or between set hours each day. This practice will help restore balance in the home as well as temper your child’s (and your) urge to check digital channels.

3. Teach balance. It might surprise your child to learn that she does not have to respond to a text right away. They’ve simply acquired a poor habit. Explain the concept of self-control and how she holds the power to decide when, how, and to whom she responds. This will also require you to model priorities. So, the next time your text alert goes off on your phone and you are mid-conversation with your child or engaged in another activity, simply shut your ringer off. If your child sees you taking control of your engagement level, she will likely follow.

4. Respect their culture. Be aware that some teens see ignoring a text as social suicide. Be respectful of the peer culture they must live in daily—whether you understand and agree with its practices or not.

5. Affirm them. Genuinely affirm your child in other areas of life such as hobbies, academics, and unique interests. Build their confidence every chance you get and remind them of the many things that make them unique.


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