To Get Through To Your Teens, Text Them  

Teenagers don't enjoy talking to their parents. Actually, scratch that. Many don't talk that much to their friends either, at least not with their voices. Teenagers like to text. Walk into any establishment where teens hang out and you will see them clumped together in small groups hovering over their cell phones. Sometimes they even text the people sitting right next to them.

It's a strange way of life.

While cell phone usage is a fairly modern development, the issue of tight-lipped teens avoiding all communication with parents isn't. Typically, young adults want to manage their own affairs. But these days, the social and academic stress on teens is absurd, and they can't always handle it.

With anxiety and depression among youth rising and suicide being the third leading cause of death for the age group, it's clear they still need their parents.

Since it's extremely difficult and awkward for teens to communicate their feelings to Mum or Dad , especially verbally, I have just the solution: Text them.

Texting solves a lot of impediments in the communication process. For teens, it solves the problem of getting the words out. Texting also removes the need to look someone in the eye when speaking.

Devorah Heitner, the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World offers another advantage. Texting eliminates a common area of miscommunication. She states, "There is a lot of research that says teens don't read parent's tone or facial expressions accurately so texting offers a way for them to hear from their parents without being so put off by tone." This is equally true for parents who are often set off just by the tone emanating from their kids that they don't even hear the content of the statement.

For parents, texting offers the gift of time. It gives both parties a period to think about their words and process what is being said. This is incredibly helpful for parents (and kids) who tend to have an immediate overreaction only to come to their senses later.

A few months ago I learned just how powerful this parenting hack can be. My daughter came home visibly upset. When I asked what was bothering her she didn't deny the existence of a problem, but she couldn't talk about it. So I said, "Text me".

Without a moment of thought, my daughter put her head down and started typing. I patiently avoiding eye contact waiting for my text to arrive. With a ding, I was let into her world. We texted long enough to get out the basics and break the ice. Then we were able to talk it out verbally.

Since that moment we regularly use texting to communicate. It's our thing, and I love it. There will be times when it will be easier and faster just to talk. I'm sure I'll get frustrated with waiting for each text to arrive. But I know that what's most important is that I find a way to communicate with my teens even if it isn't my preferred method. It's the words that are most important here, not the mode of communication.

Here are some tips to carefully develop your texting relationship with your kids.

Give some space. Some teens will still feel inhibited texting parents while they are nearby. This is partly because kids fear seeing the reactions from their texts. To ensure that you maximise the possibility of your child opening up try looking away, texting from another room or even leaving the house for a bit. The space will clear the air and create a safe environment for your teen to open up.

Don't push it. When teens feel pressed into talking about their feelings their resistance goes up. The more parents try to pry into their kids' lives, the more guarded they become. So go in slowly. You might try, "Hi honey, I can see you are looking down. Are you OK? If it's hard to talk you can text me what's going on."

Loosen up. Texting is an art, not a graded academic paper. Grammar flies out the window, substituted for acronyms and emojis. At first the spelling and loose language is jarring. But once you get the hang of it, it's freeing. And those emojis are actually an incredible way to identify feelings. If all else fails you could always simply ask, "Do you feel more ???? (embarrassed) or ???? (angry) or ???? (sad) ?"

Keep it brief. Kids hate paragraphs on texts. Say what you have to say, but do it in as few words as possible.

Don't forget to breathe. Take advantage of slower pace of texting to think, process and put the problem in perspective. In other words, don't freak out immediately. Ask questions instead of solving problems. Try not to lecture or give too much of your opinion.

Give it a rest. If you try texting and nothing comes of it, leave it alone. You can try again at another point in time.

If depression is affecting you or someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.


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