Most kids enjoy being able to text. It feels great to be able to reach their friends any time they want!
But texting with friends doesn’t always go smoothly for teenagers. Texting is a very stripped-down form of communication. Without facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, it’s hard to read emotions and intent. The potential for mistakes and misinterpretations expands dramatically with texting, compared to in-person communication. Emojis just don’t make up for all that lost information.
Group chats can be especially fraught. Conflicts can escalate quickly. Insults and accusations start flying, everyone takes sides, and someone can end up getting kicked off.
No one automatically knows how to manage texting. Your are likely to make mistakes, but by talking about some of the common pitfalls, you may be able to avoid them.
- First, it is important to note that any time you post something, tweet or text, it is on the internet forever. This is why many celebrities have won very large monetary judgements against people who have posted false or embarrassing material. You can remove it from the site it was posted to, but it still can found on other sites. Therefore, if a teenager post something, they need to think about the fact that it will be out there forever and anyone can see it. This may lead to embarrassing situations.
- Because texting can be pretty instantaneous, teenagers may expect their friends to always answer their texts immediately. If they don’t get an instant response, they may feel hurt or angry. Some teens react to a delayed or lack of response by anxiously fretting that the friend no longer likes them. As they work themselves up about the imagined rejection, they may ask plaintively, “Are you mad at me? Why aren’t you answering?” This gets old very fast for the friend. Some teens get angry and become demanding, bombarding the friend with multiple texts saying, “Answer me!” It’s definitely not fun for a friend to be on the receiving end of that kind of pummeling. What you need to realize is that there are many reasons why the friend might not answer right away that have nothing to do with you. Maybe the friend is busy doing a family activity or taking a shower. Maybe the friend forgot to charge the phone or got in trouble and the friend’s parents confiscated it. Maybe the friend is never good at responding quickly to texts. If you can imagine all of these possibilities and more, it will be easier to do the right thing when a friend doesn’t respond: wait. Give the friend a few hours or maybe even a day or two, then reach out again in a friendly way.
- Let’s consider the most common problems that teenagers encounter. The first one is texting sexually explicit photographs to their boyfriend/girlfriend. At the time they think it is no big deal. However, high school romances typically do not last. If one of the individuals feels hurt, they can post that sexually explicit picture all over the Internet. It can be sent to their families and friends. In fact, their entire school could see it. This would be extremely embarrassing. Even if the person who posted the picture is punished, the picture is still out there and the damage is done.
- “Never text in anger” is good advice for everyone. While it’s tempting to dash off a quick and nasty text in the heat of the moment, that’s unlikely to be helpful. Take time to cool off to avoid sending a message that you will later regret. There’s a lot of room for misunderstandings when communicating by text, especially when discussing emotional topics. Without the nonverbal cues, it’s very hard to read emotion correctly. Comments can come across as mean or sarcastic when they weren’t intended that way. To help you understand this, say the sentence, “The glass is on the table” in an angry, scared, and sad tone. Same words; very different meanings. A text can’t capture this. It’s best to save emotional conversations for times when people can talk in person, over video chat, or even over the phone.
- Because texting allows teens to reach out at any time, they may believe that they have to be reachable at all times. This is not healthy. Set some guidelines about when texting is or isn’t allowed. Times when it’s not appropriate could include during family meals or activities, while studying, and after bedtime.
- The second major issue is harassment. Friends get mad at each other or often one teenager is singled out and they become the object of numerous texts telling them they are ugly, no one likes them etc. These texts can be sent so often and by some many other teenagers that the teen who is the target commits suicide. There are numerous examples of this and a common one is accusing a teenager of being gay. This is not harmless teenage game playing. This harassment can be vicious. They are also cases where the teenagers sending these texts have been charged with stalking or more serious charges if the teenager committed suicide.
- Finally, texting and posting can destroy a high school student’s plans for the future. Many colleges now look online when a student applies to their college. If they feel the teen is not someone they want representing their University due to their social media post, they will not be admitted to the University. It can also impact a teen even if a University accepts them. Harvard University once again told a student they had accepted that their admissions to Harvard had been revoked due to racist social media they found posted by the teen. Harvard did this two years ago to ten students. The lesson is think before you post because it could change your entire life.