If your teen is like most, he’s an avid text-messager. In fact, 72 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 make use of text-messaging on their cell phones, according to a study released in April by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. A full 54 percent text their friends daily.
“Texting is the preferred form of communication right now,” says Drew Olanoff, director of community at textPlus, which has a phone application allowing people to text for free. “At that age, there's just the need to communicate all the time.”
So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that teens won’t stop texting when they return to classrooms this fall.
The same Pew study, which included 800 teens from around the United States, said 64 percent of teens with cell phones have texted in class. textPlus recently released results of its own survey of 1,214 teens who use its service, 43 percent of which have texted in class.
“A kid texting in class is really no different than a kid writing a note in class,” says Richard Guerry, executive director of The Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication. And the textPlus survey shows that most teen texting conversation is about stuff that’s always been important to that age group: gossip, cute boys, what’s happening this weekend, and so on. However, the survey shows that 22 percent of the service’s users have texted friends with answers to a teacher’s question.
But how do teens manage to text without their teachers noticing? It boils down to one eternal truth, Olanoff says: “Kids are smart.” He points out that many people – including adults – can send text messages without looking at the phone, which makes it easy to text while hiding a cell phone under a desk. Guerry has heard of teens who bring more than one phone to school. If a teacher or principal tries to confiscate the phone, these teens hand over phones they don’t actually use.
The ubiquity of texting in modern society, especially among teens, shows how important it is for adults to set boundaries for how this technology is used, Guerry says.
And Olanoff has no qualms about parents laying down the law. As he notes, “More than likely, if a kid has a cell phone, the parents are paying for it.” Moreover, incessant texting is not only extremely costly, but when it begins to interfere with your child's academics, the stakes are even higher.
Set Clear Rules
Guerry advises that teens and parents discuss cell-phone use and set specific rules for texting. For example, this may include prohibitions on texting in class or after bedtime, along with forbidding texts containing objectionable content.
There must be specific consequences if the texting rules are broken, Guerry says, and your teens must know what they are in advance. This is no different from telling your teen that if she comes home after curfew, she loses driving privileges. With clear boundaries and consequences agreed upon ahead of time, you and your teen are less likely have conflicts about what's allowed further down the road.
Follow Your Rules
In the textPlus survey, 66 percent of teens said their parents have texted them while they were in class. Olanoff says this shows adults understand that when one person sends a text message, it’s ready when the recipient is able to read it. “Parents understand that the text is going to be there after class,” he says.
But many people, especially teens, expect an immediate response to texts. Which explains why teens are often compelled to reply to messages immediately after they receive them while sitting in the classroom – just like many adults feel the need to respond to e-mails as soon as they show up in their inboxes.
So Guerry says that if you need to contact your child while he’s in class, find some other way to do it. It might be better to call the school and ask to have a message passed along to your child.
“You can’t tell a kid, ‘Don’t text in class,’ if you’re the one texting,” he says.
Tips for Teachers
Parents aren’t the only ones who can curb texting at inappropriate times. Teachers can too, by setting their own clear rules and consequences.
“If I was a teacher, I’d have a box and say, ‘Everyone, put your phone in the box and you’ll get it back after class,’” Olanoff says. That way the playing field is leveled. However, the kids who don't text in class, may feel like they're being punished for other people's wrong-doings.
Many schools have set boundaries. In the Pew survey, just 12 percent of teens said their schools allow students to have cell phones at any time. In the classroom, it's the teacher's job to be on alert for texting during class - just as they would be if there were notes being passed.
But Olanoff says that teachers can turn the tables and even use texting as an instructional aide. Teachers can easily allow students and parents to text them with questions about homework assignments, and students are likely to take them up on the offer, Olanoff says. The key there is to make sure that there are clear boundaries from the get-go so that things don't get out of hand.
If your teen is addicted to texting, and she's texting while there's teaching, sit down and set some clear guidelines with her so that you're both on the same page. Texting may be a part of our everyday lives, but that doesn't mean it should get in the way of our children's education.