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Talking to Your Texting Teen

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Are your teens tied to their phones?

She texts all night long!”

“She won’t put that stupid phone down for one second!”

“She cares more about that phone than her own family!”

“I can’t talk to her anymore — I can only TEXT HER!”

Have you or someone you know uttered these statements about a teenager? I heard all of those statements during a recent parent-teen mediation.

Parenting a Teenager is Hard!

Communication has always been challenging between adolescents and their parents. Hormones are raging. The pursuit of independence is in full swing. Relationship drama abounds.

If we are honest with ourselves we can reflect and relate to some of what our teens are experiencing. There is one dynamic that we cannot relate too – that we did not experience: texting and social media.

Communication patterns have changed. Long-held assumptions about communication must be set aside. For example:

  • When a teenager says they got in to an “argument” with their mother was it in person or by text message?
  • When a teenager says they’ve “talked” to a friend about an issue, was it in person or by Facebook message?
  • When a teenager says they were “told” something, was it directly or through Twitter?

There are so many benefits to the advances in technology. When it comes to conflict, however, technology often hinders effective communication in the family home.

Tone and body language typically convey information and feelings more accurately than words alone. Yet, texting, emailing, and social media are usually limited to a string of words and abbreviations. Or symbols. 🙂 LOL

So much is lost in such a communication. Questions linger… Is he being sarcastic or serious? Is she asking or telling? Does he really mean it?

The Conflicts That Come Along with Parenting a Teenager

This is the context for adolescent life in today’s instant communication culture. Introducing hot button topics to this context makes parenting a teenager exceptionally challenging. Examples of such issues:

School refusal…Curfew…Dating…Family obligations…Money…Driving…Parties…Choice of friends…Planning for life after high school…Substances…Swearing…Chores…

The effort towards open communication can lead to yelling, walking away, ignoring messages, and too often a failure to resolve the argument. Sadly, this can lead to a complete breakdown in face-to-face communication.

When parents and their teens reach an impasse that is untenable — or can barely speak to each other calmly — there are a few (of many) steps that can be taken.

Embrace the Technology

Some parents have embraced the technology. They text their kids. They communicate over Facebook. They find ways to connect with their kids using their kids’ tools and language. In fact, a recent study from Brigham Young University has found that teens whom are connected to their parents via social media feel closer to their parents in their day to day lives.

Old-Fashioned Strategies

Go do something fun! That’s right — rather than arguing find something that your teen would love to do…and go do it with them. Participating in activities, meals, and car rides are often the best ways to develop conversation with teenagers in an organic way.

The Hybrid Approach

Ideally, parents are blending the idea of embracing technology with the old-fashioned strategies related to personal connection. Retweet an interesting activity to your teen and ask them if they’d want to participate. Text them spontaneously and ask if they would like to go out for dinner. Share a review of a community event on Facebook. Ultimately, using technology serves as a platform for personal engagement between parents and their children.

And If You’re Still Stuck

There is no shame in asking someone to help when it comes to parenting a teenager. If you are tired of fighting through texting, interpreting acronyms like LOL and OMG, and have an important problem to solve, reach out to a favorite uncle; consult with a therapist or mediator; check in with the guidance counselor; talk to a friend. Often, it can be quite helpful having someone available — personally or professionally — to help the communication between a parent and a child.

At least that’s what I think, IMHO… (translation: in my humble opinion)

What other suggestions do you have about parent-teen conflict in the social media age?

Ben Stich

About the Author:  Ben Stich is a professional divorce and family mediator in Massachusetts. He specializes in working with parents and teens, divorcing couples, divorced parents, and couples that want to stay married. His blog helps families improve communication and manage family conflict.

18 replies
    • Ben Stich
      Ben Stich says:

      Yes, Garrett, it is. I for one was resistant to integrating technology in to my life for a long time but have come to accept — and in many cases embrace — this change in our society.

  1. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    I was just talking about this with a parent last night who will really appreciate receiving a link to this article. Thank you!!

  2. rachel
    rachel says:

    Just this morning my son was watching vine while eating breakfast-ugh. I do have a no phone policy at the dinner table. Maybe it needs to extend to morning hours, too!

  3. Josh Hoch
    Josh Hoch says:

    Under, “And If You’re Still Stuck” I’m glad you mentioned a mediator as an option. Mediators aren’t often thought of. While people may know about mediation for divorce, many mediators, (like you) are helping parents and children communicate and restore relationships. Bravo!

    • Ben Stich
      Ben Stich says:

      Thanks Josh — you’re right. It does not occur to people to contact a mediator to help parent and teen conflict and that is a shame. Mediation can be very effective as a stand-alone intervention, or as a complement to counseling. Thanks for contributing!

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      I agree with you, Josh. There is no one size fits all when it comes to parenting. It takes a village and it’s good to have other options available to improve relationships and communication within families.

  4. Shellien Gilliland
    Shellien Gilliland says:

    As a Creativity Consultant I believe in the power of silence & time without digital distraction. We have spontaneous “power outages” at our house as a way to cope with not just texting but all the digital distractions that tend to keep us from seeing the beauty, and relationships, immediately around us. It’s like pushing a mental “RESET” button.

    • Ben Stich
      Ben Stich says:

      I give you credit for admitting that the dinner cell phone policy is not only challenging for kids but also for parents. Too often we (adults, that is) set expectations that we do not ourselves follow or model — and then we wonder why our kids aren’t listening. The truth is they are taking our lead!

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      So what do we do when we go out with our girlfriends or with other couples and the phones sit on the table and make it into hands throughout the meal? I’m guilty of this myself but it gets really annoying when friends do it constantly.

  5. Glenn Bryant
    Glenn Bryant says:

    Why have so many parents given up on being “in charge?” Take the phone away. Not allowed at the dinner table. Most likely the parent pays the bill….so you set the limits. I know all of my kids accounts and passwords and they know I will go on their accounts at any time or they lose their devices. Bottom line…it’s my house. Don’t like my rules? How do you feel about having an empty room with nothing but a bare mattress in the corner. Go ahead….make my day! 🙂

    • Ben Stich
      Ben Stich says:

      You sound like an assistant principal who has seen too many parents that you think are overly permissive, Glenn! And you may be right.

      The idea behind this post relates to any type of parenting style and tries to address the challenge of resolving conflict for parents and teens in the social media age. Taking things away may serve as a punishment and assert control. Yet, let’s assume it is a parent who knows how to set limits — taking away the phone is unlikely to open up the channels of communication and will likely exacerbate the conflict. A lot, of course, depends on the developmental level of the kid — I had images of older adolescents as I was writing this post.

      On a side note, I think it’s great that your kids know there is full transparency between their online lives and you.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Glenn (and hope you’re well!).

    • Hayley Kaplan
      Hayley Kaplan says:

      Sounds like there’s no messing with you in your house, Glenn. 🙂 I like the essence of what you’re saying and agree with your general concept. However, as kids get older, I think Ben’s approach becomes valuable. I have no problem laying down the rules in my household but I also enjoy some quality digital time with my kids.


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