Thursday, June 18, 2009

Texting Mania

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One night I heard a mother say to a friend, “My child’s phone is never out of her sight. She’s constantly texting—while she eats, reads and visits with friends. The only time she’s not texting is on the softball field.”

“Maybe you need to set more ground rules,” her friend said.

You think?

Later I read about Crystal Wiski—a Scaramento teenager who is an extreme texter, though she’s not the only teen gone texting wild. One Ohio teen sent an average of 15,000 text messages a month (500 messages daily), while balancing texting with good grades and competitive play.

In late 2008, 13-year-old Reina sent 14,528 text messages in one month (484 messages daily). Her texting bill was 440 pages long. Luckily for Reina’s dad, they had the “right” type of plan and weren’t charged 10 cents per minute or they would have paid up $3,000 for the excess. Reina’s excuse: “I am friends with four obsessive texters.”

Back to Crystal—the teen who sent more than 303,000 texts in 30 days. Crystal averaged 10,000 text messages a day, 421 messages an hour and seven texts a minute. The high school student who earns A’s while holding a 40-hour-a-week job said in her defense, “I can’t help it if I’m popular.” The Wiski family had an “unlimited” texting plan in place, thus avoiding a $30,000 tab.

Research reports a majority of teens and almost half the tween population (2008 Neilson Survey) own a phone. Most parents give their children phones for safety reasons. That’s why Addy got her first cell phone before making the leap from elementary to middle school. This same Neilson survey says that the monthly texting average for most kids ages 13 to 17 is a mere 1,742!

What is a safety issue for parents is obviously much more to our children. A 2008 survey of 2000 teens by the wireless trade association, CTIA, and Harris Interactive revealed many teens believe cell phones are as important as clothes. Many teens gauge a peer’s popularity or status simply by the cell phone he or she uses.

More troubling to caregivers is the unhealthy attachment some children have to their cell phones. For them the world revolves around receiving and/or sending a text. At a recent pool party we hosted for tweens, one teenager was so tied to her phone that the minute she heard her “signal,” she would stop the game, jump out of the pool and respond.

To help your children have a healthy relationship with their cell phones, begin with two guidelines for kids:

1. Require all cell phones be turned off before bedtime. Reina’s Dad uses dinnertime as the cut-off. During the school year our off time is 9:00 p.m.

2. After the deadline, detach the child from the cell phone. Addy’s phone goes in a kitchen drawer until the next day.

When I spoke to moms at a Girl Scout event in 2008, many of them confessed they allowed their children to take their cell phones to bed with them. Maybe the zealot texting teenagers mentioned above also had this flexibility and ended up texting half the night away rather than getting a good night’s sleep?

Adults can model detachment. Don’t answer the phone every time it rings. Don’t keep it always in your back pocket. At the end of the day, my phone joins Addy’s in the kitchen drawer where it remains for the night—meaning we all get a good night’s sleep.

It’s a parent’s job to teach technology is a tool as well as a toy—not a lifestyle.

Allyn Evans
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