Running L8 But CU Soon. Luv, Mom

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By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 11, 2008

OMG. Dat u mom?

Yes, it is. Parents are horning in on their teenagers' lives through text messaging. Sending shorthand cellphone messages used to be the province of the younger set -- under the dinner table, in the car, at all hours of the night.

Now, parents are responding with their own quick dispatches -- "RU there," "Running L8" -- and becoming the fastest-growing demographic in text messaging, which is one of the biggest areas of the mobile-phone industry.

Parents frequently follow their children into technology, setting up pages on MySpace and Facebook social-networking sites, for example, in a bid to become their "friends." Parental text messaging is outstripping the growth rate among younger generations. In the past two years, use of the technology by those ages 45 to 54 increased 130 percent, according to M:Metrics, a market-research firm. By comparison, those ages 13 to 17 increased their text messaging by far less, 41 percent.

Sprint Nextel said teens and adults ages 40 to 50 were the most active text-message users from June 2006 to June 2007. Of adults, mothers are driving the growth, the company said. Overall revenue from data services on cellphones, including text messages, surged 53 percent last year to $23 billion, according to CTIA, the wireless-industry trade group.

"Parents like the immediacy of it and that it is not intrusive. . . . It's become an important way of communicating with their kids," said Ralph de la Vega, chief executive of AT&T Mobility, the nation's largest wireless carrier. Children are introducing their parents to the technology; in a 2006 study commissioned by AT&T, 50 percent of adults who text messaged said they started because of their children.

Suzanne Furman of Rockville had watched her teenage son, Jesse, move his thumbs at lightning speed over the keypad, sending hundreds of messages a month to friends.

"It didn't take me long to realize I'd have to learn how to text if I wanted to keep up with him," Furman said.

So she did -- with some prodding. Two years ago, Jesse sent a message asking when she would come to pick him up from an outing with friend.

"I just stood there frozen and realized I had to figure out how to reply," said Furman, who is an avid user of many other technologies such as the Web and digital music. She thumbed through the numeric keyboard on her Motorola KRZR phone, taking several minutes to write, "Coming now."

With that, Furman dove into a technology she says is still difficult to master but has become a staple for family communication. She now texts her husband to coordinate chores like dry cleaning pickups and sports practice drop-offs.

Schools have caught on. Fairfax County and Montgomery County send automatic text-message alerts for weather-related school closures and other emergencies. RainedOut.com sends message alerts for soccer practice cancellations among Washington area leagues.


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