By Connie Matthiessen, Associate Editor
Communicating with teenagers is random and mostly on their terms — which is why I love texting. Columnist Lisa Belkin called texting her “favorite parenting tool.” I agree.
Sure, texting can be intrusive and annoying in many ways. At a family reunion last year, for example, one of my sons, away from a new girlfriend for the first time, texted his way through our entire visit. And I’m sure that emoticons, LOL’s, BTW’s, and other common features of text-speak are having an erosive effect on our collective language skills. Far worse, of course, is the deadly cocktail of texting and driving.
Despite its many downsides, texting is a wonderful way to stay connected — particularly when your kids morph into teens. Texting is an invisible link to your teen that doesn’t invade their space or threaten their fledgling independence.
One of my sons is not a morning person. He waits until the very last minute to get out of bed, then dresses, eats, and brushes his teeth in a flash and dashes out the door just in time (most days) to catch the bus. We exchange few words in the morning because he’s in genuine pain and can’t tolerate chitchat. Instead, I text him a little later, when I’m on the train to work, to make sure he made the bus and give him an XO or two — virtual kisses and hugs he’d shrink from in the real world — especially before 9 a.m. He can respond to my texts or not, in his own time, and only if he feels like it. (He usually does.)
Where r u?!
Texting frees teens to venture out into the world in a relatively safe way. Belkin admits she first got hooked on texting when one of her sons was in middle school. He was out with friends one night when he texted and asked her to come get him — and to say it was her idea. A quick text allowed him to extricate himself from a scary situation. Could he have called? Maybe, but the fear of one of his peers overhearing might preclude the call. When my kids are out at night, texting permits me to check in to see where they are, and to tell them to come home when it’s getting late — all without getting in their face or embarrassing them.
The short messages also make reminders seem less naggy than they do in person. When I’m at work and need to make sure my daughter goes to her dentist appointment after school, or ensure my son goes to see the college counselor, texting is quick and efficient — and I don’t have to listen to their whining. (I do receive text whines, of course, but “Bleh!” and “Ugh I really really really really really really don’t want to go” are easier to tolerate and sometimes even funny, IMHO.)
Beside all the practical uses, texting is a quick, painless way for teens to reach out in those precious moments when they feel like communicating — when they get an A on a difficult test, for example, or they’re staying at a friend’s house and can’t sleep.
As Belkin observes, texting “makes life a conversation, not an appointment, one that knits us together, loosely but definitely.” My sister told me recently that she was out hiking when she received this question via text from her son: “What would you prefer: a dysfunctional republic or a government headed by a benevolent dictator?” The question wasn’t entirely out of the blue: her son, a political science major who is obsessed with politics, is disheartened by the paralysis in Washington, and he and his parents discuss the issue often. He was texting to carry on the dialogue, picking up the conversation where it left off.
That’s why I love texting. Whether the message is philosophical or practical, charged or banal, texting provides a way to keep the conversation going — a way to be together, even when you’re apart.Follow @CMMatthiessen