Have you texted your teen today?
Many parents who reach out to their kids on their own technological turf may find they improve their communications, said Charles D. Knutson, a BYU computer science professor, at a Campus Education Week presentation Friday.
"I've had some great interaction with my kids through text messaging," Knutson said. "This is great technology when it's used right."
At the same time, he warned that children in their early teens should not have unlimited access to cell phones, that teens need to be taught to use texting and chatting responsibly, and that chat rooms — where Internet users come in personal contact with strangers — should be absolutely off limits.
"We shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater, but we should throw out the dirty bathwater," he said.
Text-based messaging, such as instant messaging and cell phone texts, should take place between friends and family only.
"The most dangerous places on the Internet are places you make friends with anyone you don't know in real life," he said. Chat rooms that foster exactly that kind of relationship pose a risk for all ages.
But other forms of text messaging can be positive, if not carried to an extreme.
Knutson had the following advice for parents in regard to the use of text messaging:
Use social network sites that allow you to choose the friends who have access to your personal information, such as Facebook, instead of sites like MySpace, which he typified as "a seething mosh pit of youthful hormones."
"If you feel skanky about having an account on a social network, your kid shouldn't be there, either," he said.
Don't accept a "friend" on Facebook you wouldn't invite over for dinner tonight.
Look for positive uses for cell phone texting with your children, like delivering shopping lists or sending a brief message during a meeting. He said statistics show that 68 percent of parents communicate with their teens by texting, and 56 percent say they communicate more since they began texting.
Enlist your child as a partner to eliminate unwanted contact on the Internet.
"When the child shares his or her concerns with you, then they will work with you," Knutson said. "If you are having those kinds of interactions, you are halfway there. If they say, 'Stay out of my space,' then you have a problem."
Limit access to cell phone usage for younger teens, checking out the cell phones for specific periods of time, and then expanding that time as the child gets older.
"If a kid has a cell phone when they are 13, check it out and in," he said. "An 18-year-old has to learn to control himself, and in the process he becomes a successful adult."
Teach your child that messaging friends while talking to you in the same room is rude.
"The technology is not evil," Knutson said. "It's just the next wave of technology."
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