Texting has its obvious advantages, like when your teen sends a quick message about running late or quickly transmits an address or phone number for future communication. However, teenagers who rely on texting as their primary communication platform may struggle to build positive, meaningful relationships off their cell phone screens. The impulse to check an incoming text message can be distracting -- and even dangerous if done while driving. Learning tools for building relationships and communicating can help teenagers who text but don’t talk in person.
In-person conversations convey multitudes of information through non-verbal cues such as voice register, body language or context. If your teen is constantly texting instead of talking with friends and classmates, opportunities for miscommunication might arise and cause problems in the relationship. Sarcasm, teasing or jokes are much easier to misinterpret over a text. To protect relationships during sensitive conversations, encourage your teen to speak in person, even if it is an uncomfortable idea for her. Suggest reserving texting for lighter talks, or for quickly establishing logistics for meeting after school or comparing notes from class, in order to take advantage of the subtle nuances of face-to-face conversations when dealing with more serious discussions.
Teenagers sometimes turn to their text messages to confirm that they are important, cared-for or popular individuals. Some teens might count the number of times a particular friend texts them in one day, or time how long a friend takes to respond to a message as a way to gauge the depth of their relationship. Discuss the value of quality over quantity in relationships with your teen. A meaningful conversation with one friend while on a bike ride or after a soccer game can be more satisfying than multiple text messages from near-strangers. Some teens might find themselves texting all day out of boredom or habit, rather than as a way to communicate meaningfully. If you are concerned, talk with your teen about some of his justifications for texting. If he is texting from a sense of obligation to respond to others, encourage him to try setting boundaries. Texting with a promise to call later, or making a joke about giving an exhausted cell phone a vacation for the rest of the day, can get teens off the hook. Setting aside their cell phones for short periods of time might reduce feelings of anxiety about the quantity of texts received, as well, allowing teens to participate in real-world conversations that allow for genuine dialogue and in-person companionship.
Some teens feel more pressured or more comfortable expressing sexual information via text. Texting provides some distance and anonymity, which helps explain the phenomenon of teens texting inappropriate photos or highly personal sexual information. Teens who stick to in-person conversations regarding their romantic lives or sexual concerns will probably find that they are more reserved. They are also less likely to be betrayed by individuals who don’t respect the privacy of the sender; some teens find themselves unwittingly exposed when texts are forwarded to whole groups of peers. Talk openly with your teen about your concerns about sexting. When related stories appear in the media, use these as case studies to discuss concerns. You might also provide an appropriately welcoming home environment where teens feel comfortable inviting others over for dinner or to watch a movie. This creates opportunities to practice in-person conversations while adhering to expectations for behavior outlined by you, as the parents.
Teens who steer clear of conversing with their parents might feel more comfortable using texts to communicate. Many adults have had prior experiences navigating a tough in-person conversation, but teens could be avoiding important conversations with their parents because they're not sure how to begin. Parents can establish a positive, safe texting relationship with teens by periodically checking in. Stick with specific information so that texts seem relevant. For example, parents might wish their son good luck on an English exam, or congratulate their daughter on a winning serve in the volleyball match. Texts shouldn't replace in-person talks, but a meaningful texting relationship can help break the ice when more serious talks need to happen. For example, after a tough breakup, your teen might benefit from a text that says, "I am here for you and ready to listen. I love you." Even if the teen doesn't take up the offer, the message still gets across.