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For Texting Teens, an OMG Moment When the Phone Bill Arrives

Last month, Sofia Rubenstein, 17, used 6,807 text messages, which pushed her family's wireless bill to more than $1,100 for the month. She couldn't believe the
Last month, Sofia Rubenstein, 17, used 6,807 text messages, which pushed her family's wireless bill to more than $1,100 for the month. She couldn't believe the "incredible" number she hit. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)

But it is to Connie Dennard, 49, of Washington. "I never send text messages," she said. When her 21-year-old daughter, a student at the University of Maryland, racked up a charge of $90 because of her texting a few months ago, she said, "that was the end of that. She pays for her own unlimited plan now."

Chris Evans, 44, of Chevy Chase, got a new phone plan with unlimited messaging just this past week because his 11- and 13-year-old children were blowing out the phone bill.

"I travel a lot and hadn't been paying attention to the bills, and they really got out of control," he said. "They're animals with this stuff."

The explosion of this technology was inevitable, according to those who research adolescent behavior, because it provides a new tool for creating what teenagers always have wanted and needed -- distance from parents.

"It's a form of silent communication; they can do it whenever, they can do it fairly secretively," said Rob Callender, trends director for Teenage Research Unlimited. In a recent study of teens, he said, TRU found that texting is the second most popular use for cellphones, right after using them to check the time. Plus, every phone number a child calls is recorded on the family phone bill, with a time stamp. But text messages remain an anonymous, faceless lump number.

Friedland, the psychologist, says texting is different from the marathon phone calls most parents remember making as teens because it's typically done with a large group of friends. "For many of them, it is the sense of being part of a group that is really important," she said. What she worries about is that children aren't getting the "cleaner, deeper sense of friendship and relatedness" that came from talking to someone directly, even on the phone.

"We just don't know yet what the impact will be," she said.

Rubenstein can text without even looking at the keypad and responds within seconds, although the conversation tends to be about nothing especially important. Her mother, Marti Rubenstein, said she has seen Sofia and her friends text each other even when they're in the same room. "It's definitely a crutch," Rubenstein said.

Her daughter left Thursday for a 10-day trip to Morocco with a group of students -- without a phone. Her mother is curious how the kids will handle communicating the old-fashioned way.

"It'll definitely be a totally different experience," she said. "They'll have to spend the whole time actually talking to each other."


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