” My 14 year old daughter is a texting addict! She will even sit and text when our family is at a restaurant. It drives me nuts. If I tell her to stop, she just does it under the table. It’s like this little secret that we can’t be in on, plus it’s just plain rude. It’s as if half of her is here with us, but her brain is somewhere off with her friends. The thing that really annoys me is that she doesn’t take part in family activities any more–it’s like she has to have a special invitation to participate. What should we do?”
Teens and pre-teens have the mindset that their friends are the only ones who understand them. Many kids feel much more whole as a person when they’re with their peers. So basically, like the parent describes above, they will probably text as much as they can. Think of it from their perspective: it’s fun, it’s immediate gratification–which kids love–so it’s also self-reinforcing. That means that when they text, our kids get a reward right away in the form of a response from their friends, and so it encourages them to do it again right away, and get another reward.
So how do you curtail your child’s texting habit and make sure they’re participating in your family’s activities? And how do you keep them from using texting as another way to be rude? I recommend that you have times in your family when there is no text messaging. For example, you can say that from 6~7 p.m. at night, there is no texting allowed. Don’t let your child have his or her cell phone on them at all times. Say things like, “If we go out to the movies, you have to leave the phone at home.” Set strict guidelines around texting–and stick with them. Don’t over-explain your reasons, just say, “You are a member of this family and you have to participate during these times when we’re all together. No questions.”
Know ahead of time that kids overreact to things being taken away from them. Parents, in turn, are often afraid of getting into a power struggle with their children. The bottom line is that many kids will react negatively when you start to set limits on their texting or cell phone activities, but if you stick with the plan, they will eventually respond and comply with your family’s rules.
James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James’ foremost goal was to help kids and to “empower parents.”