Text Relationships? IDK

My kids taught me to text. They all have cell phones that they rarely answer except if I am calling, the condition that I set for paying for all their texting. But if I want an immediate response I know better, I text. Texting is actually quite convenient for taking care of the mundane details that can often jam up the works between all the kids and their various schedules. Increasingly I hear about their sorrows and joys over text too, although usually those exchanges put me into autodial on the phone. Come to think of it, most of the “love u’s” come through text now too.

Our basic need to connect and communicate is in the process of another significant face lift. The endless hours that I stretched the cord from the kitchen wall around the dining room table for some privacy and spoke endlessly to a couple of my closest friends is folklore now. Most people don’t even have phones in their kitchens. We still do, just for old time’s sake, but my kids rarely pick it up anyway. They know that no one would call them at that number. They have their own.

The shift to personal phones was just the beginning of cell-phone technology although I am still partial to real voice exchanges. In my memory and my mind, hearing a voice, even when I am far away connects me to that person and gives me a chance to hear an inflection. I can hear my children’s moods on the phone, harder to decipher in a text. Emoticon choices are only a small piece of the communication I have learned, the subtlety of text relationships is being invented among our youth and there are some reasons for concern.

A recent Pew Research Center report found that half of American teenagers 12-17, send 50 or more texts a day, a third send over 100 a day. Two thirds of the teens said they are more likely to text a friend than call, and more concerning still is that less than a third reported talking to their friends face to face. Not surprisingly, another recent study showed that kids between the ages of 8-18 spend 7.5 hours a day using electronic devices. Is all this techno time connecting with friends really substitute for the complexity of what happens in human relationships when people are together without their phones?

This is a discussion at my house at times like when I walk up into the family room where the sleep-over boys are all texting other people, side by side. It becomes animated and a group activity when the phones get swapped and the texter identities become the game. I pity the young girls sitting at the other end of the communication wondering why the test messages just got so random. These are the kind of teen communication games that the wide range of digital options provide. Facebook isn’t so much a conversation as a provocation or at least a public offering.

Researchers who have spent their lives studying the skill development that happens in early relationships are understandably concerned that this switch to the abbreviated form of connecting will not allow for the intimacy and emotional nuances that happen when you are sitting side by side with someone. Will the skills of reading body language and facial expression be the unintentional loss with all the connecting that happens on our devices? Besides that, the social rules for text conversation are anything but cut and dry, the unspoken ways that kids look for power in their messaging often ends up sending the wrong message. Often this comes in the form of no message.

The social cues of how to relate when you are face to face are clear. If you turn around and walk away while in the middle of conversation, no one is guessing about the meaning. Same goes for hanging up on someone in a phone call. Text message rules are not quite so clear. Not answering a text is akin to hanging up the phone to some, while other people believe it means nothing. Let me say, that this issue has not been a small one as my fourteen year old insists on courting his favored girl through text. She obviously has not gotten the text that says, you are supposed to text back.

I continue in my motherly meek way to try to infuse the text with a real conversation. Call and ask the question: “Does this mean anything when you don’t answer my text?” My son is too insulted to discuss it. As if relationships in youth are not challenging enough, the idea of limiting oneself to so few characters seems downright daunting. Some enterprising teen should write a book of text-etiquette, so everyone can agree what the response, or lack of it means.


Mr Martin H.
.7 years ago

cell fones were created by the devil!

Melissa M.
Melissa M7 years ago

I am not a fan of texting. I may send one from time to time, but prefer to hear a voice instead of staring down at my phone trying to type everything out on my little keys just to have a conversation! My kids have a play phone that my 5 year old pretends she is texting on-courtesy of our older nieces who are constantly texting when they are over! Ugh! Don't they know that it's rude to come over to somebody's house and constantly be texting?! Where's the etiquette these days? I suppose I'm just more interested in the actual human connection than the electronic connection. By the way, I'm only 30.

Lindsay Church
Lindsay Church7 years ago

sigh. so true.

Eli was here
.7 years ago

Great article. Thanks Wendy!!

Henrique Marsh
Past Member 7 years ago

We still do, just for the good old days, but my children do not usually pick it up anyway. They know that nobody is going to call this number.
memory card reader

Dorota Janik
Dorota Janik7 years ago

i don't like texting because people can write everything they could' tell me face to face

johan l.
paul l7 years ago

Great article, Wendy!
Irrespective of which side of the globe you live, kids are all the same.Although my kids are slightly older and we did not have to buy them cellphones, the cellphone craze has hit everywhere!
With apologies to the poor, we yet see most of them walking around with cellphones!
p,s, Are those lovely kids in the photograph all yours?

Sarah C.
Sarah C7 years ago

Im guilty of texting over calling, its something I should really work on changing! Nice article!

Sarah L.
Sarah L7 years ago

I'm honestly prefer a face to face conversation any day. Don't get me wrong I love texting but its not the same and its easy to lie that way.

Sara Lima
Sara L7 years ago

very good. ty.
btw...i hate to text....and i also hate phones:) mine is always in silent mode and i have it for emergencies. nothing can be better than to sit and talk.