In today’s world texting has become a very common way for people to communicate with each other, especially for teenagers. Before the Coronavirus, when I would go to a baseball game or the theater, I would see adults texting the entire time. I have even seen people fired via text. We also had a President who made major announcements via Twitter. His actions made teenagers feel that Texting is normal. Additionally, it’s no surprise teenagers today feel texting is the normal way to communicate. One reason is because they grew up with it and everyone is texting. Any teenager today is part of what I refer to as the IPhone generation. Since these kids were born there have been Smartphones that they have been using. Therefore, texting or having instant access to information via the internet is normal to them. They never have seen an encyclopedia or a card catalog at a library. The teenagers I currently see for psychotherapy, use texting as their primary way of communicating with each other. Besides texting by Smartphones, teenagers also now text each other as they play video games online. Try removing a teenager’s Smartphone or gaming console so they cannot use them or text, many teens become very upset and some even become violent. Additionally many parents don’t feel texting is really communicating, however adults need to pay attention to how often they text people.
While technology is advancing at a fast pace, our laws and ethics are having a difficult time keeping up with the latest advances. However, when laws are passed or ethical standards set, many teenagers and adults are not aware of the new laws. This is creating a tremendous problem for teenagers and their families. I have worked with many teenagers who are struggling with an issue, such as being accused of threatening someone via text, but they had no idea they were doing anything inappropriate.
Additionally now we have the Coronavirus pandemic and teenagers have been attending school remotely and were not able to hang out with friends like they did before the pandemic. Therefore, for many teenagers texting has become their lifeline helping them stay in touch with their friends. Again these teenagers have grown up with texting so it’s normal to communicate via text. Many parents don’t understand how texting is the same as talking to another person. However, remember when you were in High School most teenagers spent hours on the telephone because we couldn’t text.
Something that it is important for teenagers to remember is that any time you post something online, tweet or text, it is on the internet forever. Some teens will say when they text it’s just from phone to phone. However, it remains on the phone forever and also on the server that provides your cellphone service. In other words, someone can get your text history from Verizon. This is why many celebrities have won very large monetary judgements against people who have posted false or embarrassing material on the internet. You can remove it from the site it was posted to, but it still can found on other sites. Therefore, if a teenager post something, they need to think about the fact that it will be out there forever and anyone can see it. This may lead to embarrassing situations.
Most teens worry about their grades and after school activities because they do not want to wreck their chance of getting into the University of their choice. However, many teenagers are not aware that many colleges check social media sites and the internet when they apply. The schools search for the applicant’s sites but also search to see if the applicant is on friend’s sites. They look at your pictures and opinions and decide do they feel they want you representing their school to the world. They can get your text history depending on how closely they choose to examine your background.
Let’s consider the most common problems that teenagers encounter with texting. The first one is texting sexually explicit photographs to their boyfriend/girlfriend. At the time they think it is no big deal. However, high school romances typically do not last. If one of the individuals feels hurt, they can post that sexually explicit picture all over the Internet. It can be sent to their families and friends. In fact, their entire school could see it. This would be extremely embarrassing. Even if the person who posted the picture is punished, the picture is still out there and the damage is done.
Additionally, teenagers fail to think about the fact that they are under 18 years old. Therefore, they are violating child pornography laws by texting the picture or by receiving it and having a copy on their cellphone. In fact, Congress is trying to pass stricter laws regarding teenagers texting sexually explicit picture. Therefore, besides being very embarrassed, the teenagers involved might find themselves facing legal charges for violating child pornography laws.
The second major issue is harassment. Friends get mad at each other or often one teenager is singled out and they become the object of numerous texts telling them they are ugly, no one likes them etc. These texts can be sent so often and by some many other teenagers that the teen who is the target commits suicide. There are numerous examples of this and a common one is accusing a teenager of being gay. This is not harmless teenage game playing. This harassment can be vicious. They are also cases where the teenagers sending these texts have been charged with stalking or more serious charges if the teenager committed suicide.
When this occurs, the teenagers are shocked. They think they were just teasing another kid and it was harmless. They have no idea what this teenager is already dealing with in their life or what it can be like to have numerous classmates texting you every day all day long. It is not harmless teasing, but because technology has increased so quickly it is not the same teasing that use to occur at school. We have not had enough time to think about this point.
Another major issue is that texting is an excellent way for schools or police to arrest teenagers for dealing drugs, buying or using drugs. I have worked with many teenagers from numerous schools where the school catches someone using or selling marijuana on school grounds. The school then checks the student’s cellphone and looks at the text history. The school then starts calling in the student’s on the text history and asking about drug use or selling. One teenager getting caught at school can result in ten teenagers being expelled. The teenagers are usually in shock. First, they never thought they were doing anything wrong and they never thought a text could get them in trouble. However, it can and it does. I have seen many teenagers for psychotherapy because of a text found by the school.
Finally, new research is showing that texting is increasing the rate of depression in teenagers. Texting creates more access in some ways, however, it is isolating too. When you text you lose the personal interaction which is very important. People do need personal interaction for their mental health. When teenagers text they miss out on the personal interaction. This can and does at times lead to a lonely feeling. If a teenager is already having a hard time and then they experience of feeling isolated too, this can lead to depression. Research is showing an increase in teenage depression and I am seeing an increase in the number of teenagers I am seeing for depression. Therefore, we need to take a closer look at teenagers and texting.
So we are facing a difficult situation. Teenagers today tend to use texting as their primary way of communication. Given the pandemic we are dealing with at this time it makes sense for them to text each other. However, our ethics have not kept up with technology and there are a number of ways teenagers can get into trouble texting. Additionally, research indicates that texting can increase the feelings of isolation and depression in teenagers. Feeling many teenagers and trying to avoid during the Coronavirus pandemic. One way they feel that helps them is texting friends. However, this maybe incorrect according to the research. Therefore, parents are facing a difficult situation when it comes to their teenagers texting each other.
At this point, my professional opinion is that parents sit down with their teenagers and discuss the pros and cons about texting and that parents limit texting to an hour everyday. Additionally, you may want to set up an agreement where your teenager allows you to monitor their texting in away that is comfortable for you and your teenager. Remember to be patient during this conversation because everyone is dealing with stress due to the pandemic.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with 20 years of experience working with children and teenagers. He also treats Internet addiction. For more information on Dr. Rubino’s work or his private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.