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Communicating with Your Kids – Your Message, Their Medium

Posted by GuardChild 17 Comments

(Comunic8N w/yr Kids—Yr Msg, Their Md)
I’ll just say it: I hate text messaging. It takes me forever to find the right letters on my phone and I don’t like switching screens just to insert a semicolon. It costs 10¢ per message, which seems ridiculously wasteful, and it makes my thumbs hurt (although you can add this service to your cell phone plan for a minimum monthly fee).

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m “old” (i.e., older than 20), and chances are, if you’re reading this, you are too. You may have noticed how communication preferences are the greatest indicator of generational differences these days. “Really old” people (over 40) still use telephones and voice mail and are soundly mocked by those in their 30’s who rely on email and IM (Instant Messaging). (Let’s not even talk about those fossils who still—gasp!—write letters by hand.) However, for those 25 and under, text messaging is unquestionably the preferred method of communication.

According to a 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 45% of teens have cell phones and of those, 64% regularly send text messages from them.[1] Sixty percent of teens listed text messaging as their primary form of communication with their peers, second in popularity only to cell phones.[2] Teens also named Instant Messages and social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Friendster as preferred communication methods. The least popular? Face-to-face communication and email at 35% and 22%, respectively. Joel Kades, VP of Strategic Planning and Consumer Insight for Virgin Mobile USA calls texting “the folded-up note of this time period”. [3]

What does this mean for parents? For those who feel like I do, it unfortunately means you should start doing thumb exercises. For as long as there have been parents and children, there has been a struggle between communication and privacy. Relationship experts have long recommending using notes as a way to communicate with your children while still allowing them a bit of mental and emotional space.

It might feel strange to send your kids a text message when they are sitting in the next room, but what if you’re working late again this week, or they’re at the mall as usual? Busy families often connect more frequently if they can do so electronically. Either way, you might be pleased by the results.

Messages can be small (“I’m getting a snack. Want one too?”). Or they can be thoughts that you might forget to share with them otherwise (“I really like your hair like that”). It can be a great way to tell them something that might otherwise embarrass them (“I was watching you fold laundry today, and remembered how much helped me fold socks when you were a baby”) or a way to quickly set up a “real” discussion (“Family meeting tonight? Let’s talk allowance.”). Even a well-timed “LOL” (“laugh out loud”) can let your child know you’re listening. You can also send a text message to remind your child about a task they need to do or let them know you’ll be home late. The options are endless.

Communicating non-verbally with your child allows some valuable things that speaking doesn’t. First, privacy. Your children can read messages own their own turf, without looking you in the eye, affording them more control over their emotions and thoughts. Second, you can both think things through so your messages are accurate—and can be re-read later when you’re no longer mad. Third, text messages can be kept on the phone or sent to an email address to be looked at again and again. You might be surprised at how much your child might treasure a compliment or kind word. Best of all, text messages or instant messages are quick and don’t even require a response, making communication feel intimate and easy, rather than being a big production, and helping your child to see you in a different light.

This is great, you say, I’m on board, I’m ready to start texting and IMing my kids. Now what? Well, first you need to learn how. For IM, you’ll need to set up an account (free) with one of the chat services (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ, etc.). You’ll likely want to use the service your child uses. Chat clients like Trillian or Macintosh’s iChat allow you to have several accounts with different services and be logged into them all simultaneously. To text your child, you both need to have cell phones with a messaging feature (most recent phones do automatically). Compose messages using the numeric keypad on your phone, pressing the number that corresponds to the letter. For example, if you’re trying to type “E”, you’d hit the number 3 twice in succession. Keep in mind, that unless you’re enrolled in an unlimited text program as part of your wireless package, you will be charged for each message sent or received.

As you know, IMs and text messaging has its own slang and shorthand. To save your thumbs, and understand what your child is saying to you, you may want to consult a glossary like GuardChild’s Instant Messaging/Chat/Text Messaging/Emoticon Glossary. If all else fails, ask your kids for help. Assuming they don’t die of embarrassment, it’s a great way to start a conversation.

Tell us—do you text or IM with your child? What do you like/not like about it? How has it affected communication within your family?



[1] Sekkas, Nick. “Text Messaging Changing Way Teens Communicate”.

[2] Study: Wired Teens Changing Communication Norms

[3] “Ohmigod, teens are so over e-mail!”


17 Responses so far.

  1. Betty says:

    Your article on digital parenting really hit home for me. I am a single parent and have two girls who are just starting to learn about and use computers. Since I became a member of GuardChild, I began to recognize the dangers on the internet. However, your article has made me realize how I must always be aware about what is going on in my children’s world when they are online.

    I will now spend more time with them when they are online and create my own MySpace and instant messenger account so I can become better educated about how social networking and digital communication works.

  2. Melissa says:

    My wife and I found the site very resourceful and full of valuable information. We like the site format and found it easy to navigate. We thought community membership was a real bargain, in particular – websites and articles. There are so many helpful articles and links categorized in a way that make searching for information easy.

    We’re still learning how important it is to communicate with our three children in their ‘digital medium’. We thought the article was insightful and it caused us to re-think what we need to learn and how important it is to learn text messaging and the acronyms. As we develop our skills in learning the IM, Chat lingo we will share our progress with the GuardChild Community.

    We encourage other parents to tell their friends about GuardChild and to become members of the GuardChild community because as parents we need to know about the dangers our children face on the Internet and how to protect them!

  3. Marcia says:

    I don’t know what to say — I’m overwhelmed with the information in your article. It really put things in perspective for me regarding how kids communicate and the changes that have taken place in our world. Technology has become such an integral part of our lives and I’m just becoming aware of this major change.

    Well, I’ve already contacted my cell phone carrier about using the text feature on my cell phone – actually, I’m considering upgrading to a blackberry so it will be easier for me to enter text. Next, I need to learn what all the acronyms mean and start using them.

  4. James B says:

    Thank you for this information. My daughter has been text messaging with her friends for some time now and we had no idea about the different acronyms used by kids. Now we are using the GuardChild glossary to learn what the acronyms mean and to communicate with her and it has made a real difference in our relationship. While we are still in the process of developing our ‘text messaging’ skills it has helped bring us closer to her and she was quite surprised when she received the first text message from us. My wife and I are now making time in our day to text our daughter at least once a day and will continue to develop our digital education.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’m just beginning to learn how to use the text feature on my cell phone. I never realized that this is the primary way kids communicate today. The Chat/Text Dictionary startled me when I saw things like POS (Parent Over Shoulder), etc. It looks like my wife and I have some learning to do to keep on top of what our kid’s are textng.

  6. Christy says:

    I have never been a fan of texting but since becoming a member of the guardchild community I now realize I need to learn how to text my daughter and friends. My daughter seems to be texting all the time and I never paid much attention to it until now. Actually I’m working with her to show me how to use my cell phone – funny…my child is teaching me how to text.

  7. Joan says:

    My wife and I found your website very resourceful and full of valuable information. We like the site format and found it easy to navigate. There are so many helpful articles and links categorized in a way that make searching for information easy.

    We’re still learning how important it is to communicate with our three children in their ‘digital medium’. We thought the article was insightful and it caused us to re-think what we need to learn and how important it is to learn text messaging and the acronyms. As we develop our skills in learning the IM, Chat lingo we will share our progress with the GuardChild Community.

    We encourage other parents to tell their friends about GuardChild and to become members of the GuardChild community because as parents we need to know about the dangers our children face on the Internet and how to protect them!

  8. G475 says:

    After reading Joan’s post, I realized that I too am struggling with communicating with my children using technology. I’ve had a cell phone for years but I’m just starting to learn how to text my children.

    I am grateful my husband has a strong grasp of technology and is helping me to accelerate my learning skills with text messaging. Now I am actually sending text (albeit brief) messages to my children and …WOW they actually respond. I can’t tell you what a wonderful feeling it is to receive a response from my children…and quickly. So, I’m realizing how important it is to ‘talk’ to my children using text messaging.

    My husband has set up an Instant Messenger account for me with Yahoo and I am slowly learning how to use this communication medium.

    I want to thank GuardChild for providing the text-chat-im glossary. It has helped me enormously in my ability to send text and IM messages. Not to mention that now I know what POS means.

  9. Alexis says:

    Nice article, it really puts in perspective how the world has changed and how we as parents need to remain alert to the changes in technology. My husband and I do communicate with our children electronically but in reading your article, we realize we need to do and learn more. We liked the way you connected how parents were concerned and monitored their children before the Internet and how we now need to do the same kind of monitoring with our computers. Thanks again,

  10. Thomas says:

    It’s incredible how fast things are changing around us…in particular with technology. Now I’m working hard to get up to speed with the texting and chat acronyms to use with my daughter. I want to stay in the loop with her and let her know I can text and understand what some of the abbreviations mean. As a Premium member – I frequently use your glossary or do other searches to make sure I’m not missing anything.

  11. In the last 15 years, I’ve gone from Beeper to cell phone, instant messaging to Text messaging. Why you may ask, go to so much trouble? The answer is, because I have children. Four of them and as technology has progress so have I. Not because I wanted to but because I had to in order to keep up with my children. In reality, I wanted to know where they were and what they were doing. In the old days you yelled down the street or called your neighbor and bang instant response. Now, the story is very different, children are much more mobile and the global network has moved into our homes 24/7.We long for the old days but they are gone and will never return, therefore it is our responsibility to keep–up or lose the war.

    I don’t know about you but I have no intention of losing this war, we’re talking about my kids. I learned a long time ago that keeping up with technology gave me a much needed edge that my kids didn’t always appreciate but have come to accept and admire. Take Text messaging for example, I know that I can get in contact with anyone of them any time during the day. Sometimes it’s just (HI)! At others times, I can barely keep up with the speed at which the information is forth coming.

    Yes, it isn’t my way but it is there way and I will continue to learn and grow because I love my children and I want to be part of their lives. I’ve come a long way but I still find that the more I learn the faster they move on.

    Therefore, my next step in this digital learning process is to learn the Text, IM, Chat glossary so I can better understand what they are saying to friends, i.e., PA (Parents Alert). Every week is another adventure. Nevertheless, I have found and have been able to further advance my knowledge and understanding in this area that literally moves at the speed of light.

  12. Erica says:

    Kudos to you Carmen for staying on top of the changing technology and using text messaging to communicate with your children.

    My wife and I are also trying to keep up with our son who seems to learn everything about technology long before we do (I gather this is the norm). So we continue our, oftentimes, arduous but necessary struggle to keep abreast of what’s new. We have learned to use text messaging and just set up an Instant Messenger account, which we use to stay in touch with him. Funny how many of our friends don’t seem to get it that if you want to be involved in your child’s life you need to speak in their medium…which today is primarily text messaging.

    Interesting enough, we have found that using out blackberry’s to text our son has enriched our relationship and funny…he told us one day how proud he was of us that we knew how to use text messaging. Because of this, we’ve become advocates of promoting digital communication with children to our friends and family. One thing we have found is that many people don’t want to take the time to learn this new skill set (which, we believe is not difficult). All I can say if put in the effort because it pays of immensely.

  13. Rachel says:

    Communicating with your kids validated for my husband and I the importance of understand how our children communicate. Yes, we remember when our kid’s (now teenagers) used the telephone and how this has migrated to texting and IMs’. We’ve made it a point to set up our own IM account and this along with GuardChild’s acronym dictionary had made us more proficient in communicating with our teenagers.

    In fact, it has strengthened our relationship and surprised them that we can talk to them using their medium. We encourage all of you to spend time learning how to communicate with your children electronically.

  14. BBc95 says:

    Good article, I’m a new member and this article has helped me realize that texting is how my kid’s communicate. It seems like every time we are at a family event my kid’s are sitting alone texting their friends. This was a revelation for me because I had no idea the extent to which texting is being used by my kids. I’m now using GuardChild’s acronym dictionary to learn what things like POS and other abbreviations mean.

    I am now just beginning to use texting with my kids and they initially thought it was odd receiving a text from their Mom. However, I see the benefits of staying connected with them via texting.

  15. Susy J says:

    Wow! Great article and loaded with useful information. Thank you for this valuable insight about what parents need to do to help keep their children safe. I thought the article laid out in a clear context how important it is to be alert to what my child is doing online. We have an eight year old who surprising to us is Internet savvy. We now understand what we need to do to ensure that he is safe online. Thanks again for the information.

  16. HHD25 says:

    I’ve learned some time ago that kids use texting as their primary means of communicating. Therefore, my wife and I started learning how to text our kids about two years ago and it’s worked out great. We’re always in touch with them and use texting as way for them to check-in with us, or ask for permission to stay out late.

    For those of you who are just getting started – you’ll find textng somewhat challenging to learn, but once you do you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.

  17. Laura G says:

    My daughter has had her cell phone for about three months and all I see her doing is texting her friends. One day I asked her to show me how to text and we spent time together with my blackberry and she taught me how to use the text feature. It’s fun and with a blackberry very easy to do. I need to remember that I’m limited in the number of characters I can type…so I’m now learning the acronyms.