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Manage Your Child’s Texting Habits while Improving Communication

Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

If your child has their own phone, you may have noticed that they carry it everywhere. For older children and teens, the mobile phone is now considered a non-negotiable lifeline to the world at large. Some may even admit to sleeping with their phones!

While there are many good aspects to modern technology, it can also be a huge distraction from things that are important or anything that requires uninterrupted focused attention. It can also negatively impact their communication with you (and their communication skills in general) because they’re focused on texting instead of what’s directly in front of them.

Texting and Other Media Distractions

A 2012 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the average 8-18 year-old spends an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day using entertainment media. That’s more than 53 hours a week. In addition to this spent on media, the average teen also sends about 60 text messages a day. This means that both media devices and texting have become the ultimate distraction for this generation of teenagers.

“My 14 and 16-year-old kids are constantly texting their friends,” lamented one mother of two teenage boys. “We bought them phones so we could stay in touch when we’re apart. But they are so preoccupied with texting their friends, we barely communicate with each other anymore.”

Sound Principals of Parenting in the Digital Age

If you are among the many parents who are fighting for your child’s attention over their phone, here are seven sound principles to help to reduce incessant texting and improve your communication with them:  

  • Find out how much they’re texting. How many texts do they send in a month? Most mobile phone plans allow you to see how many texts are being sent from each phone.
  • Ask your child about their texting habits. Find out how many texts they send in a day and who they text most. You can also ask whether they think texting interferes with parts of their life such as studying and family relationships. Their answers to these questions will not only help you discover what they find engaging about texting, but also how to begin a dialogue about it.
  • Express your concerns. Share your concerns about the amount of texting they’re doing and how it’s affecting their relationships within the family. Don’t use an accusatory approach. Simply explain what concerns you most and let them respond.
  • Carefully listen to their perspective.You will be able to engage your child in conversation longer if you listen carefully and then try to empathize with their viewpoint even if you disagree. Teens are trying to walk the tightrope between being grown-up and yet dependent on their parents. Living between these two developmental stages is often challenging for everyone. 
  • Set boundaries around texting.  Identify times when texting is not allowed. This can include while you’re having conversations with them, driving, mealtimes and homework. Explain that these boundaries are necessary in order to keep texting from interfering with other important parts of their life. You might even ask your child to leave their cell at home when you go on outings in order to avoid the temptation of immediately responding to incoming texts.
  • Consider cutting their unlimited texting plan.Get a new plan with a texting threshold every month and require your child pay for any overages they causes. Tell them ahead of time what the limits are and what the costs will be. Explain that this move is not punishment, but simply creating accountability for their choices.
  • Create forced accountability.If you suspect that your child is sending or receiving inappropriate text messages and photos (often referred to as sexting), you can use any number of apps that keep track of what your child is sharing with others. These apps not only record every text message and picture sent from a given phone, but also share them with you in real time.
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