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Can We Live Without Texting Our Kids?

2B or not 2B, that is the question.

“He asked me for a cell phone for his birthday but I said no,” my friend confided about her sixth-grader’s recent request for the must-have item on most middle schoolers’ mental checklist. “I’m not saying never, but he is just not ready right now.” 

Cell phones in back pockets are to our kids what having a plastic comb stuffed into our Levis was to our generation: an adolescent accoutrement without which they feel naked. 

All three of my kids (they're a little older) have cell phones, so I bit my tongue and held back from convincing my friend one way or another. After all, this woman is one hell of a mother; she's raising sons who are growing into respectful, caring young men. Who am I to coach a great player? 

I listened instead and thought of my own kids and the way they have joined the technology traffic of the world in which we live. Talking to mothers with older kids gives me a chance to learn what is ahead and prepare. But talking to moms with younger kids gives me a chance to assess the path I chose to take a few miles back and see how the journey is coming along. I thought about the curses and blessings of the texting sensation. 

I looked down at my Blackberry in my lap and confessed, “This phone is the control center for my entire life. That’s really sad, but it’s true. I don’t know how we could all have dinner together most nights without it.”

I look at my phone as a cellular umbilical cord. Without it I may not be able to send and receive countless messages great and small from my 11, 13 and 15-year-olds. To the outside eye, it may seem diabolical when technological advances are introduced to the fresh, unadorned life. 

There are pros and cons to every choice we make, and the introduction of the cell phone to family life, like all technology, is no different. 

I looked at my messages to and from my kids to see what most of the texting was about.   

Except one text revealing today’s Jumble puzzle answer that we couldn’t figure out before school, most texts to my teenage son were about schedules, pleas for sleepovers and trips to 7 Eleven. But writers write. My cellphone has often been the vehicle by which some of my most tender thoughts emerge. Where sometimes praise gets lost in the day-to-day rush, I manage to sneak in a few lines here and there to supplement the ones that make my son cringe to receive in person. 

As for texts to my daughters, the messages are far more fluid. I would be hung, drawn and quartered in the public square if I revealed the intimate details of these texts. But suffice it to say that women have feelings, and boy do we like to talk about them. Sometimes these text sessions can be painful. But over all, I would have to say that they help more than they harm. Texting can be quite a positive vehicle for healing a riff or just laying down a law. 

Most important to me on my activity log of text sessions are the messages shared between my most loving friendships. If I am leading by example, then I can only assume my kids will follow. Once they are done with the initial fascination of gadgety games, they will use their phones in the same way that I use mine: to enhance relationships through caring and supportive messages that buoy my spirit throughout the day. 

As with most parenting choices, our kids will do as we do, not as we say. So if we are trying to determine if our kids will be ruined by cell phones, technology, television or junk food, I guess we have to look to our own lives and ask a very simple question: Are we living a life of which we are proud?   

My cell phone can be a source of distraction. But used in addition to—not as a replacement for—verbal communication, it is at its best. When it brings our family together, it is used to its full potential. 

It gets us all to the dinner table but is strictly prohibited from having a seat. It helps facilitate expression of feelings. (It can also hurt by facilitating the expression of feelings.) It is addictive in nature and a tool that requires continual readjustment of limits and black out periods. When limits are working, it nurtures and facilitates family life. When I get sloppy and it seeps into moments of peace, calm and refection, we all get sloppy. 

In short, the question is: Could we live without texting?  

York High School has recently lifted its ban of cell phone use in school. The reason? Most texting was found to be done between parent and child. A father in Tokyo may only have one tiny window to text his daughter after a business meeting before her big bio test to tell her, "You will do great. I love you!"  A mother wants to ensure she has the time of her son’s cross country meet so she can be there to cheer him on. Cousins with miles and years between them can text each other the silly little things that pop into their heads to keep them close between the holidays. 

Yes, cell phone use can have diabolical consequences. There is bullying, there is sexting, and if there is ever a rule of thumb I overemphasize to my children it is this: “Don’t ever text anything to a friend that you wouldn’t want every mother in Elmhurst to read.”   

At the end of the day, the cell phone is a tool. We could probably live without it just fine and the costs of using it can take a toll. If your cell phone gives you more grief than it enhances your life, your kids will likely follow. Hate it, love it or accept it, it’s your choice to make as a parent. Nobody has a right to judge how you use it in your family life. 

But some will. And they are just sending and receiving messages the old fashioned way.

Renee Gough September 01, 2011 at 12:39 AM
Thanks Diane! It's so true about the grown up kids. I find that the only way to keep in touch with my adult nieces and nephews is through texting! They lead such busy lives. Without it, we would only communicate around the holidays I think!
Jim Pokin September 02, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Since kids today are the lab rats in a long-term experiment, make sure the phone is not at their ear when they're talking on it. http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/05/31/who.cell.phones/index.html
Renee Gough September 02, 2011 at 06:12 PM
That's a rather hopeless metaphor I do not accept Jim. I am raising kids in the trenches of motherhood and reject your image of them as lab rats.
Jim Pokin September 02, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Sorry, Renee. Guess I just got too cute with my wording. I didn't want to imply that your kids (or my kids, or anybody's kids) are lab rats. The only point I was trying to make is that, apart from the social benefits of staying in touch with kids via cell phones, is whether there's a health consideration. The World Health Organization thinks that having a phone next to a human ear might pose a long-term risk, and that the risk may be higher for kids. The cell phone companies don't agree that there's any reason to worry about it. But it might take decades to get the data to have a real answer. In the meantime, all of us who use cell phones are, in a way, part of an experiement, and our children will use them longer than we will. My two kids are young adults, and when I see a cell phone against an ear, I still worry about it.
Renee Gough September 02, 2011 at 07:28 PM
I see Jim...you were 'Pokin'' fun with the comment! Puns aside, I do see your point. The way I see it is this. My kids are light years ahead of me both in intellect and in technology. They will be the ones to cure any cancer they develop from their cell phones. And they will probably use numeric code they learned on their computers! I appreciate your comments, truly.

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