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“Texting, Texting 123” — Part Two

A parent’s guide to teen texting

We welcome Donna Moss, MA, LCSW-R as a guest blogger today.

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Teen Texting - Part Two

Welcome back to a trilogy on teen texting. This series was inspired by watching my adolescent clients navigate – or fail to navigate – the strange new waters of social connectivity. And, since kids still need their folks, I wanted to speak directly to the parents of our teenagers.

Here in Part Two, we will look at how teens are distracted in so many ways.

Texting & Distraction: Texting and Gaming are a huge distraction even for normal and above average students which, in turn, can have a real impact on their families. Gone are the days of family movie night. It has been replaced by everyone sitting in their rooms chatting on screens. Sometimes it's exciting. We can “visit” with far-flung relatives or camp friends, or get help with a homework question without leaving the bedroom. On the other hand, the attention and focus of even the best students is waning.

Most Teens IM WHILE DOING HOMEWORK: I have one child of my own who can do this with the ease of an Olympic athlete while the other can no more accomplish anything while IMing than she can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Texting, Distraction & School: Teenagers are especially vulnerable to distraction as we know from all the studies on the teenage brain. Much research has shown that the pre-frontal cortex or “mammalian” brain takes years to fully develop into a planful, purposeful tool. Therefore, in addition to the normal problems of getting any teen to focus on school work, there is now the problem of getting him/her to focus on the computer exclusively for school work.

How many parents can do this without sitting on the child’s head?

When the child’s grades are dropping, how do you begin to understand exactly what is getting in the way? Many teens are already falling through academic cracks. They have poor if non-existent sleeping and eating habits, low motivation and parents who are non-stop working to pay property taxes.

If you then add in ADHD or anxiety, plus say a small, yet undiagnosed learning disability, AND IM, guess what happens?

  • Here’s what I have seen countless times: They do their homework, but FORGET to hand it in. This in turn puts them into a power struggle with their elders because they are smart enough to do it, but not able to ORGANIZE it.
  • The teen's disorganization is my gain: I have earned my living helping kids remove the homework that was done on time and correctly, from the bag where they carelessly tossed it while IMing, to the teacher via a modern technology called a “folder.” (And for me, personally, because I suffer from a rare form of dyslexia inherited from my dear left-handed Mother, called disorganization, it helps to have a COLORED folder at that). My patient Sean did this for months until his parents sat down and made the $25 investment to color-code him. They then took the EXTRA step of asking each of his teachers to remind him if he had something to hand in. He is now at Dartmouth getting Honors grades.

Addiction to Their Many Deivices: Another problem discussed myriad times before is the addiction and violence factor of video games today. There are certainly enough data to predict that SOME kids will snap if left to this activity 24/7 without supervision. While the majority of adolescents probably can police themselves, many cannot. I have kids in my office who begged me to ask their parents to restrict their “screen time.” That’s right; they knew they needed it.

The way in which this affects family relationships is telling.

  • Do you have a closed door or open door policy?
  • What is really going on in their rooms?!

But more to the point, we know they are doing it. But what are they learning?

Yes, no doubt they may become the programmers of tomorrow, but their social skills, emotional intelligence and relationship/teambuilding abilities will be wanting.

Think about it. Can your teen have down time without it necessarily becoming computer time?

IMPORTANT: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR KIDS ALONE TO PLAY VIDEO GAMES ALL SUMMER AND CALL IT CAMP FACEBOOK. Camp is for playing outside. If you are strapped for funds, send your teen to volunteer at a camp. Do you know how many of my highly educated clients have decided to spend the summer just playing computer games at home while their parents are out at work? Unfortunately, nine times out of ten this turns into depression. (Not to mention a lack of Vitamin D?).

  • Instant Party: A well-established couple, were out at an affair with their younger child when they got a call from the police that their smart and well-behaved 17 yr. old, Lyla, suddenly had 100 kids at their home without supervision. It had gone out on Twitter. The call you never want to get. She herself was afraid to call 911 for fear of reprisals. One of the neighbors called it in. Lyla and her parents freaked out; and the house was trashed.

In the texting, Facebook, twitter age, information runs rampant quickly.

Kids now know that parents can be arrested for such things. A popular case in my local area publicized this when a keg party via Facebook went out of control and they were arrested when they were home, upstairs.

The kids, however, even the careful ones, cannot control this phenomenon and they know it. It’s just as scary for them as their parents getting that 911 call. Once a Facebook or twitter announced party is broadcast, and believe me, it’s always at a venue where the professional parents are not home, it’s nearly impossible to get them out. Many of these teens feel terrible about it. They never meant for it to get out of control but it happened so fast…

Take Home Message: Your child may be disorganized for many reasons. But, one could well be the addictive and distracting nature of texting and other media. And, if your teen is spinning out of control, know that his or her gadgetry may be facilitating it.

As parents, we have a responsibility to help our kids navigate adolescence. Their judgement is weak; so teens may need our help in setting loving limits. No texting in bed, no online gaming or talk either. And, Heaven Forbid, their deivce may be taking away if it's too much. Plus, if they're completely lost, a tutor or therapist can help. Ironically, some kids beg for limiting “screen time.” Others need to be regulated. Still others may need some short-term counseling to assess what is getting in their way of prospering.

  • Our job as parents is to be aware of what's going on.
  • They may, in turn, get mad. But, don't worry.
  • They'll appreciate your efforts by the time they turn 30.


Teens and Cell Phones

• A 2010 Pew Internet Project survey found that 75% of those ages 12-17 have cell phones, up from 45% in 2004. The Pew Internet Project report also documents that many teens use their cells for an array of activities beyond texting and talking. Of the 75% of teens who have cell phones: 83% use their phones to take pictures, 64% share pictures with others, 60% play music on their phones, 46% play games on their phones

• According to comScore, as of June there were 234 million U.S. cell-phone subscribers 13 and older, and about 33% of these were smartphone owners

• According to market research firm the Yankee Group, 54 percent of 8 to 12 year olds will have cell phones within the next three years


• Social Media and Young Adults, Feb. 2010, Pew Internet & American Life Project

• Global Insights Into Family Life Online, June 2010, Norton/Symantec & StrategyOne

• Teen/Mom Internet Safety Survey, Oct. 2008, McAfee & Harris Interactive

Facebook Parental Controls Review




Guest Blogger: Donna Moss, MA, LCSW-R is a skilled adolescent therapist in the New York area who has written articles for the Internet and on many topics in mental health.

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