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Opinion

Commentary: Still Learning How To Control Kids' Use Of Texting

http://66.225.205.104/CM20101109.mp3

One of the tenets of parenting is saying no, and that's what I said for years when my kids asked for cell phones. I don't like them. I don't like listening to other people's one way conversations. I think people who drive while they talk on their cell phones are trying to kill me. And I deplore that they've created the expectation that everyone is always available. Cell phones are expensive. They have lousy sound quality. They break when you drop them. But it's the 21st century, and I've lost this argument. I held out until not having a cell phone became a hardship. Pay phones have disappeared. And there was one too many incidents where I fought traffic to show up at an event, only to find it had been cancelled. My kids insisted they were the only people in their peer group who didn't have cell phones, but I didn't care. My answer to their query became "when you start high school," and alas, that day came. By this time people didn't just have phones, they could text, and they could get the internet on their tiny screens, where they access everything from re-runs of "Lost," to Eminem's latest music video. So we bought a family plan, and learned immediately that the phone company makes its money off people who buy a limited number of text messages, only to exceed the limit. A sample plan is for 500 incoming and outgoing messages a month, which is nothing. A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center concluded that the average high school girl sends 100 texts a day. We got our first bill, and of course, our kids' actual number of text messages far exceeded the limit we had purchased. So we switched to unlimited texting. This was akin to bringing a glutton to the all-you- can-eat buffet. The sheer volume of text messages on our next bill was shocking. Each of our kids had thousands of messages. I had 56. When we averaged their usage, it equaled about 50 texts an hour, for each waking hour every day. So we took away their phones. We talked to their friends' parents. Only a few had any idea of how often their kids text. Reponses ranged from, "it's the way they communicate now," to "I really don't want to know." This is parenting today. Changing technology is being adapted at breakneck speed, without the luxury of guidelines or norms. While the kids seem to instinctively understand new technology, parents are busy working, cooking, and cleaning. We are not only behind the learning curve, we are overwhelmed by it. And many of us who use this new technology abuse it as much as our kids do. Next time you are at a meeting, check out how many people are covertly texting instead of paying attention to the event at hand. I don't know what an acceptable level of texting is, but I know there are of a lot of things my kids should be doing instead. Emptying the garbage, studying for tests, helping me make dinner. Between I-Pods, television, video games, and cell phones, we are training our kids to live their lives through small and large screens, rather than with real people doing real things. My kids got their phones back accompanied by a lecture and a set of rules. I am striving to be reasonable without being a ludite. It's quite a challenge. But in my question to raise responsible adults, I am compelled to urge restrain in regard to text and toward whatever the next technical wave brings. Wish me luck.