The Image Professor

Where the Visual, Verbal, & Behavioral Get Graded

Teen Texting Gone Amuck: Put the Phone Away or I’ll Throw it in the Potomac!

It's War: Aunt Lisa Versus a Teen's Incoming Text

Statistic One: Four out of five teens now carry a wireless device.

Statistic Two: 42% of teens can text blindfolded.

(Survey Source: CTIA and Harris Interactive)

Many years ago, a baby girl named Lauren was born in late May and changed the way I lived. I was now an aunt with a newborn niece. Before this arrival, babies and children were a source of personal apprehension. I'd see swarms of kids at the library and think, "Aren't you cute, little ones...now please move away."

I'm a quick study, however, and with Lauren's arrival, skillfully learned to change a diaper, adapt character voices as I played "Ken" to her "Barbie", collaboratively baked brownies to welcome new neighbors, and proudly watched her grow into a (usually) well-mannered young woman.

I surprised Lauren with a week-trip to Washington, D.C. this summer in celebration of her sixteenth birthday.  We posed for pictures in the Capitol Rotunda, poignantly observed the room where Abraham Lincoln perished, nibbled on pastry during the National Cathedral's Tea & Tour, and reveled in an all-day jaunt to George Washington's home, Mount Vernon.

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This last location, however, was the very spot where I, the University of Cincinnati's Miss Manners and image/etiquette expert, almost ripped the cell phone out of Lauren's texting hands and tossed it into the Potomac River, conveniently located beneath the boat on which we were both passengers.

How did Lauren text? Let me count the ways.

She'd text under the covers before our hotel wake-up call. She'd text under the covers after I bid her good night fifteen hours later. She'd text applying her makeup, selecting her jewelry, and waiting in line to see the Hope Diamond at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

Ordering doughnuts at Krispy Kreme? Text. Text. Text. Purchasing souvenirs at the Air & Space Museum? Peck. Peck. Peck.

What's a forty-year old aunt and image professional to do?

As with most behavioral issues, generational differences impacted our perspectives. We love each other deeply, but I found her behavior rudely dismissive and she viewed me as an unreasonable killjoy, trying to block access from friends who apparently required 24/7 text connection.

Fortunately, generations can establish détente through a helpful problem-solving discussion. We mutually agreed to "text rules" that would govern the remainder of our trip. We bridged this generational conflict and expanded our scope of what is "right" and "wrong".

Lauren discovered that the texting which brought her such joy and connection to others triggered disconnect between the two of us. I realized that my traditional way of communicating on vacation (through landline phone calls and thematic post cards) was not necessarily antiquated, but rather only two options of many.

By occupation, I'm a teacher. By law, she's a student. Even though we were on vacation hundreds of miles away from our respective schools, class was clearly still in session. Lesson learned? That "what-used-to-be" is not necessarily the best way. But neither should "what-is-now" be allowed free rein.

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LisaMarie Luccioni is an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati, a business etiquette expert, and one of 100 Certified Image Professionals in the United Statesmore...

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