Recently, during a mall shopping trip, I spied a group of teens. My husband and I laughed because although they were “together” in a group, each of them was texting on their phones. They were “together” but yet not “together”; none of them were actually interacting with other members of the group.
As a parent of two teens, I notice that it is very easy for them to tune out of the real world and tune into the electronic world. Facebook, MySpace, and other social sites make it possible for teens to spend a lot of time online talking or texting about their lives instead of actually going out and experiencing life in the real world. How do you help your teen balance real world experiences vs. online socializing? How do you help them set boundaries in a digital world?
Set Etiquette Rules
My children are not allowed to text or talk on the phone or engage in social networking during certain times of the day so that we can interact as a family. One time “social networking” is not allowed is during meal times.
After observing some of the text messages that my one teen was sending, I felt the need to sit all of the children down and talk about issues such as gossip, slander, and rumors. I have no problem with the children communicating with their friends, but when the communication consists of made up stories intended to hurt another person’s feelings or reputation, then that is another story. As my mother used to say, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” This includes texting and typing too.
I found that while my kids wouldn’t dream of saying certain things to a person’s face, they seemed to have no problem typing or texting those thoughts.
I know of parents who have disabled the texting features of their teen’s phones. I also know of parents who specifically purchase phones that do not have a camera option because of the temptation their teen may have to take and send inappropriate photos. Many teens don’t understand that it is very, very easy for messages and photos to be passed on to others. It’s important to discuss privacy issues with your teen for this reason.
Talk About Safety
Many teens are naive about the types of people they may come in contact with online. It’s important that your teen know that she doesn’t automatically have to accept invitations from “friends” online. It’s also important that she know that she shouldn’t be giving out personal information online to “friends”. My teens were shocked to find out that not everyone is honest online; just because someone says that they are a 14 year old girl doesn’t mean that they actually are!
Your children should also know that they need to tell you if they receive scary, threatening, or nasty messages online. Sadly, I did press charges against a “friend” of my daughter who was sending bizarre messages to her by text. It turned out that this “friend” was actually a mentally ill middle- aged woman who had boundary issues and refused to stop communication after repeated warnings. After this experience, I turned off the text message option on my daughter’s phone.
Like all things, texting and social networking can be used for good or evil. By setting some ground rules and helping your teen handle any situations that arise, you can make sure that your child has a lot of wonderful good experiences.