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Advice: Four Tips for Texting

In this week's letter, a teen asks about how to start conversations over text.

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Dear Jen,

I'm in high school, and I need help having conversations over text. I do fine in person, but I feel like I can't ever find anything to say on text. My friends all do it, though, so I feel like I should, too. Do you have any advice?


Anonymous from Dewey Beach

Dear Dewey,

This is a great question! Texting can be hard for anyone who is just getting into it. It's not the same as face-to-face conversations because so many of the signals you'd get in real life are missing from text. There are big pauses, people can be away and not respond quickly, and you can't see facial expressions or body language.

Here are four tips that should help you – and anyone else starting out with text conversations - to get started:

1. Use texting to have conversations that you'd like to have in person at that moment. One of the benefits of text is that you can reach out anytime, from anywhere. Did you see a cute puppy on the street? Take a picture and send it to your puppy-loving friend. Are you shopping and trying on something you'd like a friend's opinion on? Take a photo and text it to your fashion advisor friend and ask what they think. Did you see something funny, weird, or unusual and think "I wish Dave were here to see this!" – then text him and share. Even little things, like telling your significant other you love them or are thinking of them can be a nice way to start using texting.

2. Follow the same good rules you'd follow in real conversation. If you're trying to keep up a back-and-forth, ask the other person questions about themselves and their thoughts. Listen to their responses. Ask follow-up questions. Be truly interested. Of course, share your thoughts, too.

3. Minimize the awkwardness of text conversation with emoticons and emojis. Emoticons, like the :-) smiley face, can seem a little lame on one level, but they are popular because we can't see faces in text. If you put in a well placed smiley or wink or sad face, it can eliminate any confusion that might be in the text. For example, consider these two messages:

My mom is coming to visit. :-)

My mom is coming to visit. :-(

That little face does a lot to convey meaning that doesn't come through in text (but that would probably be clear if you were talking face to face).

4. Stick to light topics. It's hard to type out long detailed conversations on text, and a lot of subtlety gets lost. A typo, delay, or ambiguous comment can lead to hurt feelings. There are definitely times to use text for serious topics, but if you are just getting started, stay away from these. Stick to fun and relatively simple topics that will lead to a back-and-forth conversation that you will enjoy.

These are just a few guidelines to get you started.

Good luck!

p.s. If you're still at a loss, try texting someone and telling them you lost your phone. See how they respond!

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