Boundaries are key to preventing texting overuse

©iStockPhoto.com/sjlockeIt seems that ‘tweens and teens are all permanently attached to their cell phones and are using them more and more for texting rather than talking. But a new study shows that it may be time for parents to reset some boundaries for cell phone use.

The study links teens who text more than 120 messages a day to risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking and sexual activity. One hundred twenty messages may seem like the norm for a lot of ‘tweens and teens, but the study defines more than 120 text messages a day as “hyper-texting.”The study also says more than 3 hours a day on Facebook would be considered “hyper-networking.” Both may have dangerous consequences, the study suggests.

The lead researcher for the study says: “This should be a wake-up call for parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting and driving, but also by discouraging excessive use of the cell phone or social websites in general.”

What our expert says
Peter Stavinoha, a psychologist at Childrens’ Medical Center in Dallas, said the study does not show a cause and effect relationship between hypertexting and risky behaviors. “Rather, excessive use of the cell phone is just another behavior that has negative consequences for ‘tweens and teens and demonstrates to parents that the child is not properly self-regulating his or her behaviors.”

“This should be an attention getter for parents,” Stavinoha says. “Parents really need to be aware of their child’s cell phone or social networking use. This parental awareness is no different than their needing to track their child’s grades, friends and alcohol and drug use, for example.”

Tips for parents
“Parents are teaching their kids how to be parents one day,” Stavinoha says, “so it’s important for parents to establish boundaries so that their children know what behaviors are appropriate and what behaviors are not appropriate.” On the other side of the coin, parents need to give your child some privacy and space so they can develop a sense of independence.

He suggests that parents should:

  • Reconsider whether your child needs a cell phone, especially for younger children. Cell phone use is a privilege parents give their children.
  • Let your child know up front in clear terms that you are monitoring their cell phone and social networking use. The frequency depends on your child’s risk factors. If you see other warning signs , then monitoring needs to be more frequent.
  • Tell your child that the monitoring is your responsibility as a parent to keep your child safe and is not a reaction to anything they may have done. It’s really more of a deterrent than anything else.
  • Consider having your child sign a written contract about his or her use of cell phones and social networking that defines what you consider to be excessive use and what the consequences are for that overuse.

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