A few years ago, I started noticing a disturbing trend in the clients who came into my office. Frustrated kids, parents and spouses would bring their cell phones into session to show me the text message conversations they had with their loved ones. They were so eager for me to see the exchanges they had been having, and many were thrilled because now they had it in writing just how awful the other person was! Generally, the text-based exchanges would start off bad and go downhill quickly. I learned to stop indulging my clients’ desire for me to see this stuff. Now, I ask them to put down their phones and start talking to each other.
According to statistics reported here, 2.5 billion text messages are sent each day in the United States. That same study reports that there are more text messages sent than phone calls. Are we really becoming a society that would rather type out our frustrations on a phone than sit down and talk something out with someone? Don’t get me wrong, texting someone that you’re going to be 5 minutes late can be really helpful, or, if you’re like my husband and I, exchanging stupid quotes from “Anchorman” can be good for a laugh. But having a serious discussion about your relationship? SO not helpful.
How do you know if text messaging has become a problem?
1. You’re typing things you wouldn’t say in person. When you’re texting someone, you’re only getting a small fraction of the feedback required to have a decent conversation. You’re only seeing words – no inflection or tone in the voice, no facial cues to pick up on, no proximity to the other person and certainly no soothing touch to repair something that has been misinterpreted. Text messages can, and do, get misunderstood easily and can cause lots of damage to a relationship. Texting can also give someone a false sense of boldness in saying something that they would normally never say to someone’s face in order to get in a good “jab.”
2. Your text conversations with your child are going beyond the “Where are you and what time will you be home” variety. Text messages are not a good way to argue. Let your child know that you would like to set aside time to talk face to face about their concerns. Keep yourself emotionally regulated during your conversations, and it’s likely that your child will be more willing to communicate with you.
3. Your child prefers to text rather than talk to you directly. I realize texting is a way teens communicate with each other, and that our culture is steering itself toward this type of communication becoming the norm. But it doesn’t have to be the norm within our families! Within our families, we need to connect with each other through our emotions, our voices and our hugs. Stay vigilant against the tidal wave of the virtual communication trend.
4. You prefer to text rather than talk to your child directly. Face-to-face connection is important! A lot of people use the “I’m busy, texting is more convenient” excuse as a reason to continue texting with loved ones. Sure, we are all busy. How do you re-prioritize your time so you can connect more?
5. Boundaries about texting and electronic devices are unclear. I absolutely can’t stand it when I see a family out to dinner and everyone is looking down at their phones. Set times and limits for when phones are on, and this includes the adults! Your kid is watching how you connect with others, so if you find yourself glued to the Crackberry, set boundaries for yourself so you can have an easier time setting them with your kids.
On the contrary, there are a couple of ways that texting can work for a relationship. First, sending thoughtful messages like “I love you” and “I’m proud of you” can be ways to connect positively. Second, sometimes it is helpful to type something out that’s hard to say. I would only recommend this if you are able to be in the room with the person. For example, last week my daughter was mad at my husband for one of the zillion reasons 10 year old girls get angry with their dads. Instead of trying to “get” her to talk to him, he went in her room and typed her a note on her iPod. The two of them ended up having a really sweet exchange on the iPod that ended with her giving him a hug. It was a quiet, sweet moment and even though they were typing, they had face to face contact so they stayed connected.
Our relationships with our children are too important to sacrifice them to technology. They may not always admit it, but they do need face-to-face connection with us. Go ahead and call me an old-fashioned fuddy duddy. I can take it.