As a parent, so much of the concern around your child’s internet usage has to do with the risk of cyber bullying, online predators, inappropriate websites, and digital addiction. These are all valid, but within the realm of digital addiction, there’s another behavior that might not be getting the attention it deserves: excessive text messaging and the relationships that are formed around it.
Building Relationships Via Texts, Social Media, and Messaging Apps
This Huffington Post story was written by a mother of teenage girls. After a conversation with one of the daughters, the author learned that teenage text conversations continue non-stop and that the teens are expecting immediate responses thanks to the “read receipt” feature on some messaging apps that shows the users when their messages have been read. (CBS reported in 2015 that teens send and receive an average of 167 texts per day.)
The daughter’s boyfriend wanted a break, and the author suggested it was because he was sick of her. The constant contact never gave the young couple an opportunity to miss each other. One of the daughter’s friends was quoted in the story:
“‘The other day my boyfriend and I texted each other all class period long. But when we saw each other afterwards it was weirdly awkward because we had nothing to say.’ She paused. ‘Like nothing.'”
Although only eight percent of teenagers have met a romantic partner online, social media and messaging apps are major platforms for teens to express interest in someone they met in real life. Within teen romantic relationships, 92 percent reported texting their partners at least occasionally. Meanwhile, 85 percent expected to hear from their partners at least once a day; 35 percent expected messages every few hours.
The Problem With Texting in Relationships
Psychology Today mentions several ways in which texting can serve to damage any relationship:
- There can be an obligation to respond to texts. When a teen sees that a friend or partner has received the message but hasn’t responded, it can cause anxiety and frustration that can come out in additional messages. When the responsibility to text causes the individuals to avoid real-life activities (including seeing each other face-to-face), it can create dissatisfaction within the relationship.
- Texts are easily misinterpreted. Without context, tone, gestures, and facial expressions, it’s easy for a teen to assign an unintended meaning to a message, or to spend time trying to interpret a meaning.
- There’s a psychological distance in texting that allows people to say things they wouldn’t say in person.
Social media can fuel jealousy. While many teens enjoy social media as a way to show their partners they care, 27 percent report feelings of jealousy or insecurity about their relationships as a result of what they see on social media. Furthermore, texting and social media can be used to control or pressure a friend or partner. Among teenagers who are active daters, 15 percent said a partner or former partner pressured them to engage in unwanted sexual activity via the internet; 11 percent have been digitally threatened with physical harm by a partner or former partner. The impact of texting doesn’t end when the relationship does.
What Can Be Done?
The same measures you take to protect your child from inappropriate websites and cyber bullying can be effective in encouraging their friendships and romantic relationships to develop in real life. From the Huffington Post story:
“‘I am so thankful you took your daughter’s phone away today!’ the mother gushed, her children horrified. ‘Do you realize that we would have never gotten to hang out or have dinner like this if that sleek little rectangle had remained affixed to her palm?'”
By setting guidelines as to when your teenagers are allowed to use their devices, you give them space for in-person interaction with their peers. Using Trustworthy Parental controls make this much simpler: you don’t have to constantly check up your teenagers or wonder if they’re following the rules.
Schedule family events or encourage your teenagers to invite friends over to the house during those no-device hours. Give them some in-person alternatives to messaging, and social media to help them balance their virtual relationships and discover that face-to-face interactions are equally (or more) rewarding.