I have a friend who I used to go on frequent hikes with. We would get caught up in talking, laughing and sharing our silliest secrets. Of course, what you expect happened did happen. We frequently got lost and were out trying to find our way back to our car for many more hours than we had originally planned. This friend was fond of saying " Barbara, I am no Lewis and Clark." But while she wasn't a great navigator and explorer, she was an awful lot of fun. This brings me to my current point. While I am no Emily Post, I would like nonetheless to try to help provide some texting etiquette guidelines for our teens. I will do the very best that I can because I know that some of these electronically delivered messages are leading to some good communication but also to some digital drama, confusion and misunderstandings. So, please bear with me as I give this my best shot.
Of course, the most dangerous aspect of texting is when teens text and drive. In fact, results of a survey sent to more than 15,000 public and private high school students by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 58% of high school seniors reported that they had texted or emailed while driving during the prior month while approximately 43% of their younger peers -- high school juniors -- admitted to the same transgressions. These statistics are particularly concerning because we are painfully aware that distracted driving is associated with motor vehicle accidents and fatalities. The thought alone makes me shudder. These are somebody's children that we are talking about. And, bear in mind that self reports are frequently characterized by under-reporting, so the percentages of teens who text may be even higher.
So, yes, at the very worst end of the spectrum texting may lead to accidents, injuries and death. On the other parts of the spectrum texts may lead to miscommunication, confusion and hurt feelings. These are all very important aspects of communication -- especially since communication is what binds us together as good and well-intentioned friends.
As parents, we need to teach our teens about the etiquette of texting. Although we, too, grapple with the same errors as our teens, there is still quite a bit that we can teach them. Let's start from the beginning with a concrete list and then we can build from there in future articles.
1. Explain to your teen that as far as electronically communicated messages go,
-Positive messages tend to be interpreted as neutral.
-Neutral messages tend to be interpreted as negative.
-Negative messages tend to be interpreted as even more negative than they are intended to be.
Make sure that your child knows that adding a simple emoticon like a smiley face may not clarify the message to the degree that they would like.
2. Our teens are concerned about expediency. So, yes, while it might be important to let your parents know that you have arrived at your destination ASAP, it is not always in their best interest to send a hasty message to a peer. A rapidly sent message may be fraught with the wrong tone and create a breeding ground for conflict and many hours of trying to repair hurt feelings. Encourage them to pause before hitting the send button. I can tell you that even as an adult I have found myself sobbing over a text message that I didn't quite understand from a friend who meant a lot to me.
3. Set parameters with your teens around where and how frequently they should be texting. If you find out that they are texting and driving, then by all means confiscate the car keys. This will be a meaningful consequence for them. And, yes it is terribly impolite to be texting incessantly while at dinner or in the company of others. This sends a loud and clear message: "You are not that important to me. Obviously I would rather be communicating with someone else." This is something we as adults need to be aware of as well. We need to practice what we preach. I can't tell you how many times I have been mid-sentence with a friend only to have that friend start texting.
4. Teach your teens that tender and tricky issues should be dealt with in person. Texting can be a way to initiate contact but should be thought of as a warm up the way we warm up before going for a run. Break-ups, make-ups and conflict resolution require the cues available in one-on-one conversation, including voice intonation, eye contact, a hug if necessary and maybe an arm around a friend's drooping shoulder.
5. Talk to your teens about how to end text messaging. I, for one, have great difficulty with this. Since there is no pause like in conversation, I don't really know when the conversation is officially over. My friends and I have recently developed a system where we send a heart to signal that the conversation is over for now and not forever. Talk to your teens about working out a cue that signals the end of a conversation so that their friends aren't left confused and waiting for the next message.
There are so many more etiquette issues that can and should be addressed around the use of electronic messaging. I will let you digest this and will be back to you with more but just to be clear: I am signing off for now. Have a good and safe day and I'll be back in touch soon.