How to Set Ground Rules on Texting

Know when and how to give texting thumbs a time out.



How to Set Ground Rules on Texting

If you’re not ROFL at your child’s texting habits, there are some workable options to re-establishing a relationship with your thunder-thumbed e-kid. But tread lightly or you’ll end up reviled as a dinosaur at best, and at worst a suspicious snoop.

If you’re laying down the law, make sure you’re the right side of it. Whether a child’s texting is excessive “depends on the parental threshold — if parent is on her iPhone the whole night, the threshold is much higher,” says Dr. Don Shifrin, a pediatrician in Bellevue, Washington, and former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on communications, which looks at the media’s impact on children’s emotional and psychological health. “As with language or table manners, when a parent feels uncomfortable, the threshold has been breached.”

Shifrin says the Four Ms, his rules of thumb for parenting, hold true for texting:

  • Modeling: A parent with obnoxious texting habits has no leg to stand on when trying to curtail the child’s behavior.
  • Mentoring: Teach the child the proper uses — and appropriate venues — for texting.
  • Monitoring: Don’t go overboard, but keep an eye on your child’s texting habits. If it gets excessive . . .
  • Mediate: Tread lightly here — you’re less likely to put your child on the defensive if you say “I like it when we have our meals together with no interruptions,” than if you say, “Your constant texting is ruining our dinner!”

Surprisingly enough, while it can be irritating at times, your child’s texting can be beneficial to his development, according to one British study. Dr Clare Wood, Reader in Developmental Psychology at Coventry University, found that 21 percent of 4th graders use “textisms,” or common abbreviations like “CU L8R,” for “See you later.” That figure rises to 47 percent by the 6th grade. English language purists might shudder, but textisms actually require sophisticated language skills, turning real words into phonetics that often require numerical symbols to provide recognizable replacements.

“We were surprised to learn that not only was the association strong, but that textism use was actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skill in children,” Wood says. “Texting also appears to be a valuable form of contact with written English for many children, which enables them to practice reading and spelling on a daily basis. If we are seeing a decline in literacy standards among young children, it is in spite of text messaging, not because of it.”

Shifrin agrees that texting is by no means the devil’s telegram. Schools are quicker even than concerned parents to clamp down on inappropriate texting — when Shifrin’s own son got his phone confiscated, Shifrin left it a couple of days before picking the phone up as additional punishment — but electronic devices that can hold entire textbooks’ worth of information will soon become commonplace in classrooms. “This is not something that will go away,” Shifrin says. “The important thing is that there’s a filter, and that’s where the [parental] P-chip comes in. This generation is growing up digital.”

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