Texting Tips for Kids
How to keep your children safe in the digital age.
Okay, so you've taken the leap and handed your child or teen a smartphone. You may feel like you've made the biggest decision already, but if you want to keep your child safe, you have many more decisions to make ahead of you.
I hear a lot of chatter about how to keep kids safe on social media (which is a critically important topic), but there's not as much guidance when it comes to one of the iPhone's simplest features: text messages. Here, I'll touch on the five most important things you and your child need to know when it comes to texting.
1. Know the Number
If your child receives a text from someone who is not saved in their contact list, the unknown number will be displayed on the phone rather than a name. This is probably a harmless situation, but it's important that your child confirm the person's identity.
Coach your child to save a person's contact information in person and then send a confirmation text to ensure that they've saved the contact information correctly. This is the best way to make sure that the number belongs to the right person!
2. Don’t Be a Group-Text Gatekeeper
Group texts are inevitable. That said, it becomes tricky to navigate the social dynamics as peers are asked to join or are “kicked off” a thread. Coaching your child to avoid being the one who adds or subtracts people from a group chat will help avoid drama. If something is going on in a group text that's uncomfortable for your child, they can decide to take the high road by opting out.
3. Remember, Texting Is not Talking
On a brain-behavior level, it's critically important for kids to understand the distinction between talking verbally and texting. Talking involves your voice. Texting involves written text. As your child is communicating with you, take time to make this difference clear. Doing so will help your child develop an accurate perception of social interactions and avoid the trap of assuming a degree of closeness or inferring meanings that may not exist.
4. Keep Contacts Straight
Want to know how to create drama at the push of the send button? Just mix up two people who go by the same name. For example, maybe you wanted to vent to Jake Thomas about what happened at baseball practice but you accidently texted Jake Williams instead. Sometimes slip-ups can be funny and sometimes there will be serious social repercussions. The solution is pretty simple: Coach your child to keep their contact list in order by including everyone's first and last name (and any other notes that will help with organization).
5. Don’t Assume Texting Is Private
Exchanging texts with a friend may seem like a private, oneon-one interaction, but that's simply not true. When your child texts, there's no way to know who else is reading their messages. Worse yet, if your child has texter's regret and deletes a sent message, the text still exists on the recipient's phone, and can be screenshotted and shared via social media with the world at large. Make sure your child understands that anything sent via text is documented forever—including pictures! There's no erasing messages or turning back, so urge your child to text wisely and set ground rules regarding sharing photos so there's no confusion.
Stephanie O'Leary is a Clinical Psychologist specializing in neuropsychology, a mom of two, and the author of Parenting in the Real World. She provides parents with a no-nonsense approach to navigating the daily grind while preparing their child for the challenges they'll face in the real world. www.stephanieoleary.com.