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When a Child Gets Hooked on Texting

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I bought my sixth grader a cell phone a couple of months ago. She is a very good student, on the A-B honor roll every year, so I figured buying her a cell phone (adding her to my plan) was a good reward for her passing all of her Texas-mandated Taks tests this past year.

I also bought it in case of emergency. With a cell phone, she can always contact me or my wife at work, or one of her many aunts and uncles, should something come up.

Finally, she had been asking me for one. Her friends have cell phones. I gave in.

I sat her down and told her that with a cell phone comes responsibility. Not all kids are mature enough to handle it, but I believed my daughter could manage the responsibility with ease. I'm sure many of you parents have had the same talk with your daughters, at least giving them some of the basics: Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Texting boys is not allowed. Always answer when a parent calls, and always reply when a parent sends a text or email. After all, if you give your children cell phones, they had better promptly reply when you contact them.

As it turns out, these kids are setting the world on fire with texting. For the first month my daughter racked up over 6,000 texts. Is that possible? I have not even come close to 6,000 texts in all the time I've had a cell phone, and I don't think I ever will. I started asking myself: who is she texting? What can they be texting about?

I want to believe that middle school kids are mostly texting about harmless things: the latest Twilight or Harry Potter movie, TV shows like Hannah Montana, or the latest Jonas Brothers song. But I'm not sure. I have witnessed my two older daughters texting each other while in the same room! They can't talk? They have to text each other? I have not received my cell phone bill this month but I expect my daughter will top 7,000 texts for the month of July.

OK. So how am I going to decrease, and monitor, my daughter's texting? Good question. My cell phone carrier offers parental controls to monitor not only the minutes used but also who can text my daughter. A parent can go on the carrier's website and block unwanted incoming text messages from selected phone numbers. This puts the parent at least partly in the driver's seat when it comes to controlling a child's cell phone use. Why not use this feature? It's free and it will probably save a parent some heartache.

As part of the process, of course, parents need to actually go through their child's cell phone records, including going through the texts. I try to do this at least once a week. I also try to familiarize myself with the latest texting shortcuts that kids are using.

I knew right off the bat that I did not want my daughter to have picture mail or the Internet on her phone. I have read so many horror stories about teens sending nude pictures to each other. But after a month of getting used to her cell phone, my daughter asked me if I could "fix" her picture mail. But, while I would trust my daughter with it, I'm not sure I trust some of the kids at her junior high.

Parents should also disable the Internet from their teen's cell phones. Why would a teenager really need the Internet on her phone? If my daughter needs the Internet she can come home and use it on the home computer where I can monitor.

Parents should also encouraged their kids to put the phones away at some point during the day and just talk to their parents, and interact with her younger sisters, in person. In fact, if both parents are home, all cell phones should be off. The home is for the family. After a hard day at the office I want to know about my daughter's day. I want to tell her about my day. I want to find out about my wife's day. I have read many articles stating that Americans hardly take any time off from work. We are taking less vacation time. I want to cherish my down time with my family.

Driving my family around, I'm pretty sure I've been hearing some buttons getting pushed on somebody's cell phone. So I have a new rule: no texting in the car. When we are traveling in the car I want to be talking to my daughters (or listening to music).

I also advise my daughter to turn off her cell phone before bedtime. I do not need anyone texting her during the night.

So far so good. I think I'm getting my daughter's texting under control. I know we will need to take baby steps, so I have the modest goal, for now, of getting her down to under 5,000 texts a month. (The texting plan is unlimited, but that's not the point.)

Do I sound controlling? Probably. But as parents we have to be. I don't want to be the kind of parent who gives his child a cell phone and lets the cell phone become the baby sitter.

I have a four and a six year old, and I'm sure they are watching very closely. They play with their little toy phones. (They can text on those all they want!) They are watching to see how my oldest daughter uses and handles her cell phone, studying every movement, checking to see what she gets away with. I'm sure they can't wait to get their hands on their own mobile phones.

I'm sure the cell phones of the future will allow my younger daughters to text even more — they'll probably be able to send 10,000 texts a month with ease. Parents will have their work cut out for them with these high-tech phones of the future.

Meanwhile, my oldest daughter is already asking me when she can have a Facebook account. The saga continues.

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About Rene Arguello

  • Brent

    When you grasp your child like a stuffed animal, it won’t be able to breathe thus the stuffed animal has nothing to learn about breathing. So if you think you must control every aspect of your child’s life the result is: (they will grow up move away and ignore you for the rest of your life.) They need to learn from their own mistakes. Take it from me, a father of 5 kids and not one will speak to me.

  • kelli

    I wish more parents were as diligent as you are!

  • Lee, who is the provider? With normal phone plans I know how to, but I don’t with a prepaid, I am sure I can figure it out however if you let me know
    [Personal contact info deleted]

  • I’ll add that some counselors are complete dimwits and some are actually dangerous. So, get someone who works in your situation.

  • #15 – Lee,

    I guess we crossed posts.

    When I was in college, I remember looking around at my graduating psychology class and asking myself, which one of these people I would call on for help. The answer, sadly, was none of them.

    There are good counselors, bad counselors and counselors you could see for 99 years and feel fine venting, but nothing will change.

    If it were me, I would get a new counselor if she isn’t responding. They’re only people. Some will try to tell you the problem is with you if you change counselors several times. I don’t find this particular bit of wisdom to be necessarily true. It may be a problem with the person seeking counseling; that is true. But often enough it is a problem with the counselor.

    Find someone who gives results. All counselors are just people. They don’t all know the same things and they don’t all use the same methods. I’d change until I was satisfied.

  • Oh, one other thing. If you do opt for counseling, I have found that counselors who work with alcoholism are the best for most family problems. They have training regarding boundary issues and things ordinary counselors may not have the same training in. Their specific approach is often very helpful for many kinds of problems. It’s just my experience with counselors both involved and not involved in alcohol related issues.

    Don’t be afraid to change counselors if there is a problem with one. They are all just human beings. You should feel comfortable to a degree and uncomfortable to a degree. You might feel like your way of doing things is challenged. If anyone is to grow and learn, that’s just the way it is. None of us are perfect or perfectly right. Sometimes we need input from others. Again, good wishes.

  • Lee

    Thank you again for caring, we have been going to counseling, but she is not responding and we can not condone the conversations she is having with these people, she is putting her life in danger and ours if she has given them our address, if you know of any organization for us to contact regarding men preying on young girls please let me know, again thank you so much.

  • Lee,

    I recommend a good family counselor. If she won’t go, you and your spouse go. I can’t be familiar with your exact problem, but there is a rule of human behavior that I generally find to be true. When we change ourselves sometimes the other person changes. We exist in a dynamic relationship with people. We do things, often with our best intentions, that keep those people in the same dance with us. When you make changes, she might make changes. That’s all I can say. A good counselor will help you cope, even if she won’t make changes. If your spouse won’t go, go alone. I wish you the best.

  • Lee

    BTW does anyone here know how I can read the messages my daughter has sent on this prepaid phone? We can only find the messages sent to our daughter and we fear she has given out our address? Any help would be very appreciated.

  • Angelique,

    The opposite is not generally the solution to a problem in parenting. Thus, being ignored by parent/s some might think being controlled by them would be a sign of concern. They might long for a parent who cared to give as much thought to them as Rene has.

    It’s nothing but a different world of problems, not a solution.

  • Lee

    Thank you for your reply, this has us scared to death and we want to help her but she won;t let us in???

  • Lee,

    Are you sure you want to call text messaging an addiction? If a girl is in need of contact with older men (and she will get that whether it involves text messages or sneaking through a window at night), she is more likely sexualizing love. Girls who feel unloved tend to do that.

  • As for anyone who thinks you’re being controlling…..let it roll off!

    Well, he thinks he’s being controlling.


    So what kind of advice are you offering? Should he ignore himself?

  • Lee

    My daughter has gotten caught up in a terrible addiction of text messaging with men she does not even know, we took the pc away & she bought a prepaid phone behind our backs and got on the internet through this phone and then into another chat room and then men starting text messaging her, we are having the worst time of our lives right now, trying to protect our daughter from these people, please every parent reading this beware of these men that prey on our young people.

  • Angelique

    Hey Pal! As usual…I love hearing what you’ve got to say.
    And what can I say….told you she’d blow up the text messaging. But as long as she’s being open with you and doesn’t mind the monitoring of her activities(beacuse she understands why you’re doing it) ….then you’re doing just fine.

    As for anyone who thinks you’re being controlling…..let it roll off! You knew the answer to that question before you asked it. For those of us who know you…we can all testify to what an amazing father you are how dearly your girls adore and respect you!

    Coming from the childhood I did…trust me…whether they truly know how to articulate it or not…your girls want you checking in.

  • Do I sound controlling? Probably. But as parents we have to be.

    Your daughter sounds like some one you could talk to. You say you want more interaction, but you seem to want it on your own terms by force and domination. If you are into communication with your children, why don’t you already know why they are texting so much? Haven’t you ever asked them what they get out of it?

    The best result with children does not often come about by forcing them to do the right thing, but raising them to choose the right thing. I hope you get lucky and don’t wind up with the teen that’s drunk at the party and tries to drive home or the teen that’s pregnant. Controlling parents are at risk for this, so are ‘permissive’ parents.

    I think many parents have problems with child-rearing because they can’t seem to see beyond a paradigm of authority. One side of the coin is authoritarian and the other side is its opposite–license. No one seems to be just treating children and teens as reasonable people and teaching them how we live in the world with other people with respect and give and take.

    Texting to teens is like talking on the phone for endless hours when we were teens.

    When teenagers trust you to care about what they think and respect their rights, they are, in my experience, always willing to discuss their real experience and decisions with you. Teenage rebellion is an unnecessary state that parents have come to expect as normal. It’s not normal. It’s a symptom of a problem with parenting.

    Controlling people nurtures rebellion in them. The job of a teen is to cross over into being an independent person. You can make this easy by allowing that and teaching/guiding them to make their own decisions and they will allow you to guide them. Or, you can make all the rules trying to control and monitor them and take the risk of forcing them to rebel to accomplish what nature requires of them.

  • Oy vey, it must be so hard to be a parent anyway, and now with all this it must be ten times more so.

    Sounds like you’re trying your best here, but the old peer pressure can be very persuasive.

    People are now so connected to their devices that they are losing the art of face to face conversation altogether. It also seems like yet another thing that can compromise a good students’ grades.

    I’m hearing many stories about folks texting when driving, and that it apparently is as bad as driving under the influence of alcohol. Where does it end?

  • Christina Garcia

    Cool Blog! You’ve done well. Keep an eye and an ear on everything she does. There is too much out there for our girls to get in trouble with.

  • are you being controlling? are you kidding? 5000 – 70000 texts is ridiculous. I will be resisting getting my son a phone for as long as possible. As for internet on the phone….my phone is just that…a phone, I manage just fine without internet on it and I plan to do so for quite a while yet!

  • Neither of my kids had phones until they had cars. Believe me, I heard about how Chelsea had a phone in 6th grade, so why couldn’t I have one? (My son was not so interested in phones at all.)

    Our plan has no texting. When she did text, it was to excess, although not 6K. Even at 2K a month, it was an extra $200 a month. I had to take the phone away. She got her own contract with MetroPCS, which was fine. (She had unlimited talking, but none of her friends did.)

    All of your points are well taken. Young children don’t need the internet on their cell phones. They also need to speak to each other. People don’t know how to do that anymore.

    You might seem “strict” to her, but believe me, you won’t regret setting limits. They grow up fast enough as it is.

  • I must warn you, you should watch her texting very carefully. many bad things have happened from teens having cell phones

    and, you have the right to read/view each message she sends