Setting fair limits on an over-texting teen

June 12, 2012

QI’m a single mother of a 17-year-old boy who is warm, caring and compassionate. He is blessed to have both right- and left-brain skills, is a great debater and is a very good student. But he says he doesn’t want to be a great one because he wants “a balanced life.”

The balance doesn’t extend to his 18-year-old girlfriend. He keeps trying to fix her low self-esteem, and she revels in his attention and his text messages, which he learned to send for free on his iPod Touch. When their texts became excessive — 2,000 in, 2,000 out a month! — and they were texting at school, I instituted time limits and allowed only 3,000 messages total each month.

Yesterday, however, we were sitting in the same room when I saw that his account was open and that his lady friend had sent a stream of messages during the school day. I confiscated the Touch this morning, but he says that they need to have almost constant contact because she will graduate and move to the West Coast in a few weeks. Because he’s working and going to a music enrichment camp this summer, he worries that they may never see each other again.

Should I limit his texting this summer, a time when he will surely be hurting from the separation? And should I limit his texting and his Facebook during the school year?

It’s hard to know what to do. I am a fairly traditional parent, not a helicopter mom or a drill sergeant mom, but I may be a bit more controlling than other mothers because I don’t let my son have a TV or computer in his bedroom or stay up too late on school nights. His father is an alcoholic, and though he loves the boy, he’s not involved in his life. Nevertheless, my son sometimes acts like the child of an alcoholic, and I wonder if he should go to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, even though he is young for them and the meetings are far away.


(Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

AYou may as well tell the sun when to shine and the rain when to fall if you’re going to tell a teenager when he can text, especially a teenager who’s 17 and in love for the first time.

No romance will ever hit your boy quite as hard as this one, nor will his feelings ever rise as high, fall as low or be as intense or irrational, because emotions reach their peak in adolescence. Because your son hasn’t had time to build a solid relationship with his girlfriend, however, it will probably end fairly soon. So let your son text as much as he wants this summer. Perhaps the parting won’t hurt quite so much.

You do need to set texting parameters when he is in school, whether or not he has the same girlfriend. Tell him he has to give you his iPod Touch on school nights before you go to bed so he won’t be tempted to keep texting. Let him send texts in the morning, but tell him he can’t take his Touch to school. If he did that, he would be texting in class as well as in the cafeteria and on the bus, because that’s what teenagers do these days, whether their teachers know it or not.

Texting isn’t as bad as you might infer from these comments, however. It helps teenagers socialize with one another, the way talking in the dark helped your son when he was a child or the telephone helped you talk to your friends when you were young and shy. People are more open if they don’t have to make eye contact, although this can present real problems on Facebook.

Most teenagers don’t realize that written words are much stronger — and remembered much longer — than spoken ones, nor do they realize that the messages they write on Facebook in a moment of excitement or anger or foolish fantasy may be read by a director of college admissions or by a prospective boss one day. Consequences are pretty low on most teenage agendas.

Your son may consider them a little sooner if he goes to Al-Anon, which has such fine meetings for the friends and family of alcoholics, or Alateen, rather than to ACOA meetings, because they are far away and he is rather young for them. In either case, he should go alone. This is part of growing up, for him, and letting go, for you.

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