Teen texting: Help your teen avoid the risks

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Teen texting: Help your teen avoid the risks

Text messaging can be a fun way for adolescents to communicate — but teen texting carries risks, too. To help your teen avoid texting problems, consider these important teen-texting tips.

How should I talk about teen texting with my child?

Your teen may be more digitally savvy than you are, but a lack of maturity can easily get him or her into trouble when using technology. That's why it's important to talk to your teen early about texting and proper use of cell phones. Before you start a conversation, get to know the technology firsthand. Then ask your teen:

  • What features do you use on your cell phone? Can you show me how to use them?
  • Has anyone you don't know ever sent you a text message? If so, what did you do about it? How did he or she get your number?
  • How many numbers do you have stored in your phone? Do you personally know all of these people?
  • Has anyone ever taken an embarrassing picture of you without your permission? Have you ever taken an embarrassing picture of someone else? What did you do with it?
  • Who would you tell if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?
  • Have you ever communicated with someone you met online through your cell phone?

What are the risks of teen texting?

Teen texting can pose potentially serious physical and emotional risks. Talk to your teen about:

  • Texting while driving. Research suggests that distractions such as texting may be an even greater threat to teens than to other drivers. Peer influence also may play a role. The more passengers in the car, the more likely young drivers are to use cell phones while driving. Talk to your teen about the consequences of texting while driving. Monitor your teen's driving behavior, and set clear rules and consequences — such as revoking driving privileges if your teen texts while driving.
  • Disrupted sleep. Many adolescents send and receive text messages after turning out their lights and going to bed, which can interfere with a good night's sleep. Even moderate nighttime texting can greatly increase the risk of long-term fatigue. Consider keeping your teen's cell phone out of his or her room at night.
  • Sexting. Sexting refers to sending a text message with sexually explicit content or a sexually explicit picture. This type of texting can cause emotional pain for the person in the picture, as well as the sender and receiver. Explain to your teen that text messages shouldn't contain pictures of people without their clothes on or kissing or touching each other. Make sure your teen understands that sending this type of text message is considered a crime in some areas and that the consequences could involve the police and suspension from school.
  • Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying refers to sending harassing texts, emails or instant messages, as well as posting intimidating or threatening Web sites or blogs. Receiving bullying text messages can make a teen feel unsafe and lead to school absences. Discuss cyberbullying with your teen. Encourage your teen to talk to you or another trusted adult if he or she receives harassing text messages and to consider options such as rejecting texts from unknown numbers. Explain to your teen that it isn't appropriate to send harassing text messages to others.

How do I set appropriate limits on my teen's use of text messages?

Start by talking to your teen about how much he or she texts. You can also review cell phone records to see if your teen is sending or receiving late-night texts. Working together, set an appropriate limit for your teen's use of the technology. You might also have your teen pay for the cost of his or her texts with allowance money or by performing chores or working at a part-time job. Explain to your teen any exceptions, such as texting with you or other family members and texting during emergency situations.

Also, let your teen know that you'll periodically check his or her phone for inappropriate content. The older your teen is, the more often you may need to check. You may also be able to use software to monitor your teen's text and picture messages. If your teen isn't willing to follow the rules and expectations you've set, consider removing your teen's ability to text or send pictures through his or her phone.

Pay attention to warning signs that your teen may be spending too much time texting, including:

  • Skipping activities, meals or homework to text
  • Weight loss or gain
  • A drop in grades or other academic problems

What else can I do to help my teen text safely?

Understand the types of security settings that are available on your teen's cell phone and use them appropriately. In addition, remind your teen that any text message he or she sends can be shared with the entire world, so it's important to use good judgment. Discourage your teen from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying or damaging someone's reputation through text messages — and have an honest discussion about the consequences of poor judgment.

Last Updated: 2009-12-01
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