Is My Child Too Young to Text? Probably.
Communication through non-verbal media — texting, group chats, and social media — is complex and hazardous even for neurotypical tweens and teens. If your child has ADHD, the potential is particularly high for hurt feelings, doused self-esteem, and lingering social ramifications. Which is why I advise parents to follow this two-part technology plan.
Every Friday, students leave behind the long school week to enjoy a few days off with their families. The stress of nightly homework, schedules, academic and social demands, and extracurricular requirements give way to video games, family time, and sleep. But unlike when we were kids, the immediate contact with friends and classmates does not end when our kids get in the car at the end of the day.
Texting, apps, and social media keep them connected continuously throughout the weekend and even each night of the week. This can be a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship, but it can also make forming friendships confusing and complicated, or even impossible.
Students who already have a difficult time communicating socially — and who may struggle to determine the intention of someone’s words and phrases — find it even more difficult to interpret texted conversations. Group chats further complicate that process. Students can feel “ganged-up” on and often get defensive. Even worse, when some kids are left out of a group chat, they can’t help feeling rejected and bullied.
In even worse situations, children can begin to feel empowered to use language as a weapon when communicating using texts or in a chat app. This momentary anonymity allows them to say things they would not say to someone’s face for fear of hurting their feelings. When in the social comfort of their bedroom at home, they may feel more comfortable calling someone names, angrily criticizing them, or even threatening them. The student may not intend to cause any lasting harm and may only be acting out of frustration or anger, but the long-term effects can be devastating for a young person’s developing social psyche.
Even in the small and socially safe environment of Great Lakes Academy (GLA), we sometimes see the fallout of these negative interactions that happen outside of school. I find myself helping students navigate this fallout following weekends where texting or chat interactions have gone awry. A common difficulty is that none of the parties involved ever want to come together and talk in the same room for fear of face-to-face confrontation. They are sometimes ashamed, embarrassed, and still angry about mean things that were said. Many of the students who struggle with texting and social media often have a hard time recovering from unhealthy interactions because they lack the social skills to communicate the rejection, frustration, anger, and sadness they feel, in a productive way. Their immediate reaction is to fight back with harsher language and angrier words, which elicits more of the same from their peers.
The solution to this problem has two parts: one simple, and one complex.
The simple part is this…
Sometimes we need to make decisions for our kids that we falsely believed they were mature enough to make for themselves. While they may, in theory, be mature enough to have a phone or computer, they may not be ready to navigate the complexity of social communication via devices. Restrict communication through computers, gaming consoles, tablets, and phones. Do not allow it. At all.
You are the best judge of your child’s capability and maturity. If they have struggled with texting or group chats with peers, end their capacity to participate. It seems harsh, but until they learn the social skills that are required when communicating with texts and social media, they need to be restricted.
Now for the complex part…
Teaching kids how to communicate using texts, group chats, and social media takes consistency and many real-world examples. We have to model the proper way to speak to each other, but it has to start with our face-to-face social interactions. Here at GLA, we work on those face-to-face social interactions regularly. Translating those to non-verbal media is a difficult task that takes time, practice, and maturity. There is no easy fix and it will take a long time to build the skills and tools for our kids to be completely effective.
However, to leave the texting, group chatting, and social media unchecked can lead to serious consequences that can be very difficult to reverse.