BEYOND THE TEXT
I never met Rebecca Hagelin. When my daughter, Elise, introduced us electronically, (so much easier and you don’t have to put on a tie and a jacket) the name was familiar. I knew I had had a previous engagement or interaction of some type with her. When I did a ‘search’ function on my final book manuscript, I saw that, indeed, my text included this eloquent quote by Rebecca. The quote was made in the context of what children want from their parents and the gifts and duties parents owe their children:
“How does a child spell ‘love’? Answer: T-I-M-E!”
I happen to believe that Rebecca is 100% correct. Toys, expensive shoes, trips to Florida, getting your child out of a drug arrest may be well-received for the moment, but children value TIME—sustained, continuous, reliable time.
Given my knowledge of Rebecca’s work and her values, I was particularly intrigued when I received an email from her—an email transmission to her many followers—that pertained to texting.
Texting by young children, including teens, is a multi-layered issue. There is the texting itself—judgments about its frequency, its content, its abuse and its risk—and also the ethos of the character of the person doing the texting—what is being given up, what is being ignored, what is being elevated and what is being subordinated.
Rebecca’s email statement was pervaded with dire information about children that do an inordinate amount of texting—set at about 120 texts per day, people referred to as “hyper texters.”
“It turns out, however, that there’s more to worry about when it comes to texting. While texting is nearly universal among teens, how much and how often they text might be a red flag waving.
A new study from Case Western Reserve Medical School delivers a warning for parents of adolescents: Too much texting is often a sign that bigger trouble is brewing. The study found a decisive link between the frequent texting habits of adolescents and the likelihood that those same teens would be involved in harmful and risky behaviors like binge drinking, sex, drugs, smoking and fighting.
Teens who are high-volume texters are 3.5 times more likely to be sexually active and 90 percent more likely to be promiscuous, reporting four or more sexual partners. They are twice as likely to drink and 43 percent more likely to binge drink. Moreover, super-texting teens are 41 percent more likely to use drugs and 55 percent more likely to have had a physical fight.”
To be candid, I do not know enough to justify being concerned. I am tempted to take these statistics con grana sala, if you know what I mean. Since texting is a rather new phenomenon, I am curious about the data and methodology for determining long term trends. However, I am not disputing the data. I am simply being skeptical.
About one in five teens fall into the high-texting category. And, many more fluctuate in and out of those levels. While the study does not establish cause and effect, researchers say that high texting is a tip-off to parents that they better dig deeper and see what their teens are really up to.
Texting falls into many categories, of course. A text from my cardiologist telling me we better discuss my CAT Scan or a text from the courthouse informing that I will be held in contempt if I do not appear in court within the next ten minutes are different from something like “Had new pizza.. lots of gooey cheese… yum… and Linda is making eyes at Stevie again…”
In addition to the content, it would be particularly troublesome if the child texting such profundities was driving a car at 60 mph through a red light. You get the picture.
They key question is, as always, what’s the solution?
Rebecca finds that technology such as Smart Phones and monitors can play or will play a significant role in reducing texting behavior and thus, the dire fatalistic consequences visited upon those who do text. Where I am a little unsure of the analysis is in the area of causation. Does the texting lead to the drugs and suicides and violence or do those already inclined to such high risk behavior simply gravitate to hyper texting?
Irrespective of the answer to the causation issue, Rebecca’s information and analysis deserve close attention and deserve action based on them.
Rebecca provides an illuminating story:
“A dear friend recently discovered what her daughter’s friends already knew–that “Tammy” was drinking and behaving in sexually precocious ways. This mom discovered the daughter’s texts months after the fact; too late to spare her from the heartache and dangers of her behavior.” She concludes, “Keeping our children safe means that we’ve got to know who they are with and what they are doing.”
I am in favor of monitoring. I am in favor of looking at the text history of the phone, knowing full well that the history can be deleted. But inducing a child to take the additional step of deleting hundreds of messages will, I believe, be a disincentive for continuous and, often, mindless, texting.
Some parents may anticipate, and in that anticipation there may be a hint of fear of a confrontation, that the child will yelp about invasion of privacy, the lack of trust and other arguments that may serve to avoid accountability. Well, it’s an argument, but so what? Most likely the parent is paying the bills and using a cell phone is a matter of privilege, not of right. Ultimately, it’s a matter of whose in charge—the parent or the child.
My hundreds of hours in the classroom cause me to conclude that children want to know not only that the parents are in charge but, more significantly, children want to know that parents deserve to be in charge.
Rebecca Hagelin is the author of 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.