tween texting

(Photo credit: jfiess via Flickr.com)

Here we are again. Back in the murky, increasingly complex world of kids and technology, where, unless you are an IT professional, it’s almost a given that your teen or tween offspring knows more about everyday tech than you do. They’re certainly more comfortable with it.

And yet, you–we–are the parents. We make the rules, we transmit the values. We must apply the rules in a manner consistent with our values. Be flexible, firm and fair.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But as the kids get older, I’m finding that it’s not that easy.

A few months ago, eleven-year-old “Jack” got an iPod Touch, something he’d coveted for nearly a year. Jack received an affirmation of rules with his iPod, which was essentially an extension of “screen rules” that were already in place. The edict was simple: follow the rules–no screen time during the week except for homework and other approved exceptions, obey all email rules–and you keep your iPod privileges. Break the rules, and we revoke them.

That’s clear, right?

First, a primer: for those of you unfamiliar with an iPod Touch, it’s basically an iPhone without the phone capability. It operates on a wifi connection, you can load it up with apps, and so far as I can tell, it can do everything else that an iPhone can do. (Apparently, there are even workarounds that will allow you to use it as a phone, but what my kid doesn’t know won’t hurt him. In any event, that’s definitely on the “forbidden” list.)

Thus, an iPod Touch allows you to text, using your email account as the contact instead of a phone number. This was the first place I discovered that we had entered new tween territory.

Jack was the last among his group of friends to get a Touch, and the texts began almost immediately. At first, they seemed a novelty. But they persisted, and after the first week, I wondered what had happened to our “no screen time during the week” rule. I thought about bringing his weekday texts to an end, but something I couldn’t define held me back. So the texting continued.

As the chirping that heralded the arrival of new texts persisted, I puzzled over my reluctance to enforce my own rules. I examined some of the text exchanges, wondering what these kids could be talking about at the rate of more-texts-than-I-can-count in fifteen minutes. None of them were nefarious. They consisted of classic, fifth-grade boy chit-chat. Some of them didn’t even make any sense. (Seriously. Some of the messages consisted of letters that didn’t form actual words.)

And then one day, after exchanging texts with Jack when he was home alone, I realized why I was so reluctant to cut off the mid-week texts: texting is this generation’s phone call.

Texting is how these kids communicate. When we were kids and we reached a certain age, we picked up the phone. And, to our parents’ consternation, we never put it down. In many cases, it probably didn’t even matter what we talked about; it just mattered that we talked to each other. But for many kids today, the idea of picking up the phone to chat is foreign. You can do that in person, or you can virtually “hang out” with your friends via text, either individually, or, as I’ve recently discovered, in a group.

What do I think of this practice? In truth, I’m not sure it matters. This is the world in which my kids live. Yes, I could forbid them to take part in it, but I don’t think that’s the most constructive approach. I want my kids to be engaged citizens, to be happy socially, to understand and be capable of living in the real world. Better to accept the technology, I think, and work with them to make sure they comprehend its ramifications and learn to integrate it into their lives in an acceptable, productive and enjoyable manner.

So, yes: Jack is now allowed to text seven days per week. But–and you knew this was coming–there are rules:

  • Remember those 17 Rules for an Email Account? They apply here, too.
  • Don’t say anything mean or rude unless you want it to spread all over the school.
  • Think about how the things you say in a text might affect other people’s feelings. Do this before you send the text.
  • Your iPod does not come to the dinner table.
  • If your iPod starts to go off during dinner (and 7:00 does seem to be the witching hour), we have now taught you how to use the “Do Not Disturb” setting. Please get up, activate the setting and return to the table. You can check your texts when we’ve finished dinner.
  • Don’t delete your texts in case Daddy or I want to check them. (Really, we don’t want to do this much. But we want the option.)
  • We’ll learn these on a case-by-case basis, but there are numerous other situations when you preferably leave your iPod home. If you happen to have it with you, you put it on Do Not Disturb and you do not text. Example: during your sister’s elementary school talent show performance (or any other performance). You do this out of consideration both for the performers and for the people in the audience.
  • All iPhones and iPod Touches in the house spend the night on the charging station in the front hall. (We started this practice a month ago, and it has improved life for everyone!)

What do you think about tweens and texting? Do your kids talk on the phone? Or do they prefer digital communication? Does your kids’ approach to communication color the rules you make for them?

I’ll do another post in a week or so about other creeping exceptions and changes to our digital life. And, because it’s becoming clear to me that the overall issue of kids and technology will be an ongoing one, I’m creating a separate category of posts in the right sidebar called, naturally, “Kids and Technology.” It may take me a little while to go through all of the old posts and tag them properly, but eventually, they should all be accessible through that link.

 

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