Parents gain wisdom from experience. Children make foolish mistakes.
One of the fundamental responsibilities of parents is to teach lessons from our wisdom in hopes to prevent foolish mistakes. Most of us like to think we champion this responsibility with excellence.
Unfortunately, too many lessons happen in the silent recesses of our brains known as hindsight. Blame it on busyness, multi-tasking, or fear but the truth is most parents are not intentionally teaching important lessons.
Instead, we recall a scenario or interaction with our children and replay a better, much different story in our minds. A story where we clearly express our expectations and assign accountability. We think back to these key moments and wonder, “did I actually say this or just think it?”
In our hindsight –the wishful part of our brain tinted by rose-colored glasses – we are convinced we taught the important lesson. Surely we did….
Has this happened to you?
This habit of thinking we taught an important lesson could be one of the greatest parenting fails.
One such lesson requiring intentional parenting is HOW TO TEXT. Due to the omnipresence of cell phones and texting, it is easy to assume children are learning this lesson continuously as they grow up. Sadly, cohabitation with texting parents or siblings doesn’t equate to competent digital communication skills.
Let’s look at two ways we can intentionally teach children to text.
Just about everyone finds it easier to send a quick text than to call and explain. Kids, parents, employers, teachers and coaches are using this popular medium in order to streamline communication.
We can probably agree that communication between kids won’t always be effective as their youthfulness affords them a level of silliness. However, kid to employer, coach, or teacher requires effectiveness to maintain respect.
A prevalent example of this is young employees texting their boss to call in sick or even to quit (communication which should be done over the phone or in person.) This not only displays a lack of respectful character but also lack of effective texting ability.
Effective texting consists of the following:
- Address recipient respectfully.
- Respond to posed question/thought/statement with clear answer.
- Not responding, but rather voice calling, long explanations where tone of voice is important.
- Respect for boundaries of time of day and worthiness of distraction.
- On received text messages, do not assume the sender has a negative tone.
If standards for digital communication are not taught, by default adolescents/teens will text professionals as they do their friends (senselessly.) While this may be tolerated by some, it more often results in loss of respect and opportunity. Additionally, ineffective texting further promotes the growing lack of confidence in today’s youth.
If you want your child to stand out for their character, while advancing their opportunities and augmenting their competency, you cannot avoid this lesson.
Parents are quick to provide correction when they hear their child call someone a mean or disrespectful name. Similarly, if they hear a child in an inappropriate conversation, they intervene in order to save their character, innocence, and to teach respect. Typically, parents well execute the lesson of respectful and kind verbal communication.
When it comes to digital communication, however, most parents just assume their kids are kind. Children, however, generally don’t think twice about texting the first thought that comes to their mind – without any regard to their level of kindness. To make both these matters worse, most parents don’t take the time to read their kid’s text messages in order to evaluate how kindly they are communicating.
This is most often where we find cyber-bullying and “teen drama”.
Sometimes a sender has no ill intent (remember: senseless texting) however, the context in which it is received defines its kindness and appropriateness. The lesson on this uncontrollable variable of context has been too long ignored. Parents have a monumental opportunity here to teach, encourage and require kindness and tolerance in their digital communication.
Kind texting communication consists of:
- Purposeful pause before responding (ask: can what I say be taken out of context and read as hurtful?)
- Ask for clarification from the sender if something seems hurtful or is difficult to interpret.
- Proactively apologize if something was misinterpreted.
- Seek help from parent or mentor if unsure how to respond.
- Nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.
- Do not respond to hate or bullying; report it.
- If unsure, assume the sender had a positive tone when writing the text.
From the moment your child is given access to digital communication, these lessons must be taught and expected . Teaching digital kindness is every parent’s responsibility to the entire generation of youth today.
The Parent’s Role
Acknowledging the desire for children to digitally communicate both effectively and kindly is not enough; every parent must own their role as the teacher. This cannot be a hindsight lesson after they’ve failed to communicate properly and you think, “surely I taught her to know better.”
This is a continual lesson as children mature. Similar to how parents listen and correct the verbal communication of the toddler years, so it must be with the digital communication during the adolescent and teen years.
The parent’s role consists of:
- Teaching effective and respectful digital communication BEFORE texting begins and CONTINUALLY as they grow.
- How to address a familiar adult (neighbor, grandparent.)
- How and when to appropriately address any other adult.
- When it is okay to text the opposite gender; how to do so properly (remember boys and girls have very different context!)
- When texting is acceptable or when a phone call is better.
- Use full sentences and punctuation with non-peers (enhances readability and understanding…and because kids can always use the practice.)
- No lies or exaggerations ever (it’s infinitely easier to lie over text but that never makes it right.)
- Routinely review (by reading) text messages to ensure expectations are met (otherwise known as accountability).
- Asking questions like, “was there a kinder way to say that?” or suggesting possible misinterpretations “what if I read this text and assumed you were calling me stupid” to help expand their understanding of casual communication lacking non-verbal cues.
- Consequences for unkind communication, lies, or other violations of expectations.
- Identify friends who have the potential to hurt or bully; watch these conversations and discuss those friendship with your child. Early identification of bullying can prevent future harm.
- Periodically check text message conversations after children display competency to ensure effective and kind communication is still present.
These wise lessons should be non-negotiable before having the privilege to text. Like driving a car, effective teaching occurs before they receive their license to prevent a multitude of accidents.
Three Best Practice Recommendations
- Write out your rules/expectations for texting so you don’t forget them. You are a busy parent, don’t assume you or your child will remember exactly. Decide these in advance and write them out for both of you!
- To easily monitor text messages, disable or remove other communication apps such as social media apps with direct messaging (DM) and texting apps like Kik and WhatsApp.
- Review deleted messages on your child’s phone with Dr.Fone.