Ask any mother how she feels about her kids’ texting habits, and she’s likely to cite a laundry list of concerns. It’s dangerous; it’s rude; it’s taking time away from schoolwork…just to name a few. We investigate the top five worries to find out the truth about texting.
CONCERN #1: IT’S RUDE
Worrying that your kid is being rude when he or she texts all the time is perfectly valid. After all, the times they shouldn’t be texting seems to outnumber the instances when it’s all right. So when is it not appropriate for children to text? Having dinner, during family time, or while doing homework, says Judy Davidds-Wright, mother of two girls and a Certified International Protocol and Social Etiquette Consultant. But keep in mind that if you don’t like it when Junior whips out a cell phone during dinner, then Mom and Dad shouldn’t either; as with all good manners, the most effective way to teach them is to model them yourself.
CONCERN #2: CELL PHONES POSE A HEALTH HAZARD TO CHILDREN
At this point, we’ve all read about the potential dangers posed to babies and young children by cell phones. Parents are discouraged from allowing Baby to fool around with that coveted plaything, the iPhone; it’s been reported that the radio waves emitted by wireless devices can be harmful to children’s developing brains. While a 2009 tech article in the New York Times seemed to debunk this idea, fresh concerns were raised again last year when a new study was published; the study revealed that children absorb more radiation than adults. Moreover, the tests performed with regards to the dangers of cell phone radiation are used on a model that is fashioned after an adult head, not a child’s. In other words, while concerns are being raised, nothing has been proven as to whether cell phones are dangerous or not. In the meantime, babies can be kept entertained with entertaining facsimiles like the Fisher-Price Smart Phone. As far as older children go, it’s up to parents to decide whether or not to court the risk of potential radiation.
CONCERN #3: IT’S A PHYSICAL DANGER
There are some instances where texting can be dangerous to anyone’s physical safety—both children and adults should never, ever text while driving or crossing the street. In fact, a 2009 study showed that “Children who talk on cell phones while crossing streets are at a higher risk for injuries or death in a pedestrian accident.” A child who is given a cell phone should also receive strict instructions about when they should use it. And there’s the sad fact that carrying a cell phone (or any expensive electronic device) can make anyone a target for a robbery. Just last week, a 19-year old was stabbed on a New York City subway when a fellow passenger stole his cell phone. Kids need to remain aware of their surroundings when using their cell phones (or iPads, or iPods) in public.
CONCERN #4: IT’S AN EMOTIONAL DANGER
In addition to the physical dangers that can come with a cell phone, there are other potential risks. The news headlines abound with stories of kids inadvertently entering into relationships with predators via text messages. Just last week, it was reported that a teacher at a Connecticut school was arrested for “allegedly sending inappropriate text messages” to a 14-year-old student whom he met with late at night. There’s also the issues of sexting and bullying. Parents who may be vigilant about their child’s use of the Internet can fail to realize that their cell phones can similarly pose the same hazards. As reported by CNN, a 13-year-old Florida girl named Hope Witsell who sent a photograph of her breasts to a boy she liked at school. When the photo was circulated, Hope was bullied throughout the school year. Summer break provided a respite, but when school started again, the bullying resumed, and Hope hanged herself. Sexting, which can have varied and awful repercussions, is more common than parents might think. “As many as one in five teens have sent sexually suggestive photos of themselves to someone else, and a third have received such images, according to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy,” reports GreatSchools.org. Parents clearly need to stay as vigilant with regards to their kids’ cell phones as they do to their Internet use, and keep open an honest and candid dialogue with their children as to the many risks associated with both. Discuss your family’s plan options with your phone carrier; texts can be limited, and images can be blocked. Surprisingly, forking over for your kids’ phone bills can make a difference. GreatSchools reports that 17% of kids who paid their own phone bills “had sent nude or semi-nude images, compared to 3% of those who had a parent or someone else pay for all or part of their bills.”
CONCERN #5: IT GETS IN THE WAY OF MORE IMPORTANT THINGS
Ever wonder how your children can complete a homework assignment, sit down to a family meal, or even simply get a good night’s sleep with all the texting they’re doing? You’re right to worry. When the Nielsen Company did a study in 2008, they found that “American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008.” (That’s about 80 messages a day.) That sounds like a lot, right? Cut to 2010, when the Nielsen Company did another study and found that teenagers were, on average, “sending or receiving 3,339 texts a month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake.” Now, that really sounds like a lot, right? Cut to Greg Hardesty, a California father whose daughter, Reina, racked up a texting count of 14,528 in one month. Hardesty’s phone bill was 440 pages long. Clearly, keeping up with numbers is going to affect the way kids manage their school work, their actual, person-to-person interpersonal relationships, and their sleep time (very important for growing children). The New York Times concurs, reporting that “the phenomenon is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.” Limiting texts via your cellular carrier, or with rules you set down with your children (or a combination of both) can help prevent a paperback-sized phone bill, as well as the distractions and lack of sleep that can come with it.