SchoolFamily Voices

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It would be hard to say whether teens communicate more digitally, such as texting or through social media, or by talking face-to-face. Judging from the noise I hear each day in the halls between classes, I would vote for face-to-face! I have heard concerns from many adults, however, that kids are losing their ability to communicate effectively because they spend so much time sending instant and text messages. There is research that suggests that teens use texting to avoid any kind of uncomfortable communication (See Teen Texting Soars; Will Social Skills Suffer?). How can parents help their children learn to communicate better?

First, families need to spend time together when they do not allow interruptions from their smartphones. We are all guilty of checking our email and text messages or even taking a call during dinnertime with our family. The message to the family is that whoever or whatever is on the phone is more important than time with them. I suggest that everyone agrees to put their phones on silent at least during dinnertime. Spend dinnertime practicing communication skills by talking to one another. Dinnertime should be sacred family time.

Second, purposefully teach communication skills, especially those that help resolve problems. I teach students who are having a disagreement to use “I feel” statements. They go like this: I feel [name the emotion] when [tell when it happens] because [explain why].

For example: “I feel angry when you take things from my locker without asking me first, because it seems like you don’t respect my property.” When students explain what is bothering them to their friends using “I feel” statements, it opens the door to a conversation that usually ends with the problem solved. Kids need to practice this technique, and it needs to be done face-to-face rather than through text messaging or emailing.

With these two simple tips, children can begin to build their communication skills which will help them not only now but also in the future. Much has been written about the importance of social skills to success in a career. Create a family time each day when all communication is face-to-face, and teach your children how to use “I feel” statements.

For more ideas about communication, read Improve Communication Skills With Practice Games.

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The cell phone representative looked over my account and asked if I had a teenager. “Of course I do,” I said, adding, “Why?”

Apparently my 14 year old sent out and received more than 9,000 texts last month. The shocked phone rep told me it was a new record, in her experience. 

Uh oh. Apparently it’s time to be a parent over here in “GoodNCrazy” world.

My first thought was to either take away my daughter’s phone completely or put a block on her texting ASAP! My second thought was to contact my pal Mary Heston, a respected teen online and mobile expert.

Mary responded with words to the effect of “Slow down, Mama.” Remember, she said, teens do NOT communicate the way we did (or do). And while it’s strange for grown-ups to imagine sending hundreds of texts per week (or per day); it’s equally strange to them that we DON’T send very many texts.

I began breathing more deeply and slowly.

But still. Three-Hundred-Texts-Per-Day, folks!

Then, Mary’s next statement brought me down another notch. She told me to make the conversation with my daughter more about “increasing the quality—and not just about decreasing quantity—of texts.”

She was referring to all those: “k”, “jk,” and “lol” comments. I really had to think about this: The difference between creating a teachable talking point for a mother-daughter conversation, versus yelling at your kiddo for X, Y or Z (and getting nowhere).

Thanks to Mary my brain was in a much better parenting mode. I don’t want to police her phone any more than I want to police her grades or her afterschool activities at this stage of her life. I’d much rather she begin to grasp the “whys,” and then determine the changes that are needed.

Fast-forward to the same afternoon when I held her captive in a 15-minute drive-time chat. I explained that I had some bad news for her. And I simply stated that the previous month she texted so much that even the phone store rep was shocked. I shared the number (300) and asked if she was surprised by it. She was, a little.

I asked if she thought it was time for a few teen-changes. And then I began the conversation about amount of texts as they relate to “quality of conversation.”

She was completely open and, big surprise, I swear I didn’t see any eye rolling! She suggested time limits, including putting the phone down after 6 p.m. (instead of living in her pocket), and never texting after bedtime.

I tried to understand how many people she is communicating with (is it hundreds of texts between a few friends or a few texts with many different friends)? I asked more questions and tried to refrain from using an “accusatory-Mom” tone. I let her talk. (That’s a hard one for me.) And she surprised me with her responses and her suggestions.

We don’t have the situation under control yet, but we’re working on the issue as best we can. But not by enforcing strict rules and heavy-handed parent policies. Instead we’re doing so by helping her see where the normal limits should be (though who really knows?), and then following up daily for a while to be sure she can break her own habits and find a new level that is acceptable to her and to us.

She was hoping to get the hand-me-down smart phone I was in the store upgrading in the first place.

Yeah. Probably not anytime soon.


Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?