People Skills

Social skills for kids and everyone else.

The 10 Things Your Kids Learn About Life While Texting

Are kids learning values we didn't expect? What we can do.

Ever think about the amount of time our kids spend texting? You probably have. Have you thought about what life lessons they learn?

  1. Paying attention doesn’t mean looking, listening or responding. Kids will say they do pay attention to the person they’re with, they can hear. But real paying attention and communicating attention involves nonverbal behavior, like eye contact, facial expression and gesture. It involves actually listening to the person’s words, not “tuning in” occasionally. It means being responsive to questions or to the end of an idea in real time.
  2. I can treat everyone the same. Kids text wherever they are  – with their friends, at a table in the cafeteria, in the living room with a parent, in a doctor’s office with the doctor in the room. There’s no difference between friends, non-friends, family, parents and “authority figures.”
  3. Personal safety (and the safety of others) isn’t my problem. Think about texting while driving or crossing the street and there’s not much to add.
  4. There’s no need to differentiate “occasion.”  Whether what’s happening is casual chilling out, a family meal, a holiday get-together, a play date or a car trip with a friend, it's OK to text.
  5. What I need to say about something can be said in simple sentences, with limited vocabulary and symbols or acronyms to express feelings. Ask any writing teacher what’s happening to literacy. OMG.
  6. Gratification has to be instant. The moment a text comes or something pops into their heads, it's important to text right away. Of course, that could have to do with the fact that their attention spans are diminishing.
  7. What’s most important in the world of all the things happening in this moment is what's inside my head. There really isn’t a need for them to look up or pay attention to what’s around, like a nice day, natural beauty or kids playing on the playground. Looking around might make them think about something else if they took a moment to reflect.
  8. The rest of the world will wait for me. Whatever is happening – dinner, a movie, a real time conversation – will still be there when they attend to it.
  9. Notions about cultural norms, expectations and rudeness don’t apply to me. They actually are good people with no intent of offending.
  10. Basically, I am the center of my universe. This is true for everyone metaphorically, but for them it’s actually the case on a daily basis. Nothing else matters as much, does it?

Parents sometimes tell me they're at a loss for what to do. For starters, if kids are rude, inappropriate or unsafe, parents can take away their phones for a while, longer for the second offense. Consistently reinforce good texting behavior. Actually have a conversation including their interests at dinner; notice and be positive when they use their phones well. Let them know you're aware and care when they do it right.

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Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D., is an attending faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Norwalk Hospital.

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