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Even though Erin Stewart would rather her oldest daughter never start texting, she knows the worst thing she can do is bury her head in the sand so her daughter has to figure out appropriate texting and social media behavior on her own, or worse, from her friends.

It’s finally happened: My daughter wants to text.

Apparently, she is the only child in her grade who is not part of the nightly texting extravaganza that has swept her class.

Of course, this request came on the heels of a series of texting/cyberbullying dramas at her school that already had me vowing that my children would never have access to technology or puberty.

So when my daughter asked whether she could text her friends on the “family phone,” my gut reaction was a quick no. I see no redemptive value in texting as a sixth-grader, and I do not want her to get swept up in the mean-girl behavior I’ve seen come out in some girls.

Fortunately for all of us, my husband is much more level-headed. And while he also doesn’t love the idea of our daughter venturing into the big, bad world of social media, he knows it’s inevitable. So why not ease her (and us) in with some baby steps? He pointed out that the worst thing we can do is bury our heads in the sand so our daughter has to figure out appropriate texting and social media behavior on her own, or worse, from her friends.

Before we gave our daughter the green light, however, we had to decide the ground rules. Every family has different rules on phone and social media use that work for them. Basically, we want to guide our kids into having safe and healthy text relationships.

The tricky part is, texting is a whole different kind of relationship that kids today have to learn apart from regular face-to-face interactions. So, first, we talked to our daughter about these basic ideas:

1. Once you text, you can’t take it back. Don’t say anything you might regret later or wouldn’t want anyone else to see. Anything in text or online should be something you’d be comfortable with anyone finding out — your parents, your teachers, the friend you’re talking about. Never treat texting or social media like a totally private space. I’ve heard of too many girls who are surprised when their “private” text thread is suddenly printed out and shown to everyone in the grade.

2. Emojis don’t fix everything. I’ve noticed even my adult friends will tack on a winky face at the end of a super cruel or passive aggressive snip. That little funny face doesn’t make it OK.

3. Texts are a breeding ground for miscommunication. Sarcasm and jokes don’t always come across in text messages, so if there is ever doubt or a touchy subject, face to face is always the best bet.

Then, we talked about the basic parameters of texting at her age. So far, we’ve come up with a plan that looks like this:

• No texting/social media until all homework and home responsibilities are finished.

• Then, and only then, she can text for 20 minutes. I definitely do not want her being “on call” for texting because I think it puts kids (and adults) in a state of constant distraction, waiting to hear the end of a text conversation or perseverating over what that last passive-aggressive message meant. Just like I was not allowed to hole up in my room on the phone for hours as a teen, my kids won’t be allowed to be texting indefinitely with their friends.

• Respect phone-free spaces, which include mealtimes with the family, homework time, and anytime after 8 p.m. Even outside those times, real-life people trump texters. The worst part of this rule is that I have to set an example, which means no more covertly checking an email under the dinner table. While my phone use is a little different because I’m often doing work, I definitely have room to improve on how much I let that little ding dictate my life and spare time.

• Dad and Mom can and will check texting interactions frequently. If we find behavior that we don’t think is appropriate, we can readjust the texting rules at any time.

We also told her that if anything ever makes her uncomfortable or seems wrong during a texting exchange, she can come tell us without fear of us getting upset with her.

1 comment on this story

I’m sure these rules will change as she grows up and as she proves that she can handle the responsibility and privilege of texting. I am constantly hearing about new, horrifying apps that seem almost made to exacerbate bullying or drama through text.

And I’m sure all the rules in the world won’t make my daughter immune to the potential dangers of texting, but for now, as she ventures baby-step by baby-step into this new arena, I hope she is at least a little prepared to use today’s technology to enrich her life, not consume it.