6 Texting Ground Rules to Set With Kids
Stop me if this sounds familiar: Your family is here for the holidays, toting gifts. But even as they walk in the front door, your kids’ thumbs keep going. Your daughter doesn’t even look up.
Exasperated, you tell them to put their phones down. They sigh and huff, as if they can’t believe you’d even ask that. All afternoon, they fidget and eye their phones.
Safe, courteous texting doesn’t come naturally to today’s kids. And if you’re on your phone when you shouldn’t be, you’re reinforcing bad habits.
How can you teach them healthier texting habits? With ground rules. Here are nine boundaries you should consider setting with your kids:
1. A One-Hour Time Limit
First things first: If your kids are spending too much time texting, set a time limit. Explain that each time they pull out their phone, they’re on the clock.
Experts suggest that kids older than 5 shouldn’t spend more than two hours per day using screens. Letting them spend fully half of that time texting is generous.
Unless you have reason not to, trust your kids to obey their time limit. If not, ask them to text where you can see them.
Of course, your kids should know they can always text you in an emergency. But your kids shouldn’t be spending hours per day on just-for-fun texting conversations.
2. No-Text Zones
Have you seen people bump into each other on the sidewalk because they’re staring at their phones? Maybe you’ve seen tables in restaurants where everyone’s on their phone and not talking with each other. I still see people texting and driving.
In some places, texting is either dangerous or discourteous. Help your child practice safe texting by limiting where they’re allowed to do it.
For kids, a key one is their bedroom. Not only does using screens before bed hamper sleep, but it also encourages asocial behavior. Kids need to leave their rooms to build real-world relationships.
Depending on your child’s school, they may also be prohibited from using their phone in the classroom, hallways, over lunch, or all three. If you’re not sure, ask your kid’s teachers. Then, be clear to your child that you expect them to follow the rules.
3. A Maximum Number of Messages
Kids have awfully fast thumbs. You’d be surprised at just how many texts they can fire off in an hour. Each response those texts elicit will pull your kids back into their phones.
Most phone plans allow you to check how many messages are being sent. Take a look at their daily and monthly messaging volume. You might limit your kid to 20 a day or 1,000 in a month.
What if your kid needs more messages than that? Encourage them to hop on the phone. Long conversations are best had verbally.
4. A “People Before Phones” Rule
When someone else is in the room, your child should give them their attention. Staring at your phone silently next to someone is just bad manners.
Talk with your child about how they feel when they are ignored or interrupted. They should understand that they make others feel the same way when they don’t put their phone aside when they’re with others.
Help your child head this off: Whenever someone else enters the room, tell them to put their phone not just down, but out of sight. A buzzing phone out on the table is distracting, both for your kid and their guest.
5. A “Red Flags” Policy
Not all texts are created equal. To text safely, your son or daughter needs to know what sort of texts they should speak to an adult about.
Teach your child to recognize phishing texts, cyberbullying messages, and texts with inappropriate content. If they get one, make sure they feel safe bringing it to you, their teacher, or another trusted adult.
Beware that some texts are more dangerous than they appear. A “Let’s meet up” text from a stranger might not seem inappropriate or mean, but it could indicate a child predator. For texts like these, remind your child: When in doubt, talk it out.
6. A Weekly One-on-One
Don’t expect your child to report their texting habits to you. Unless you schedule time for this, you won’t know exactly when, who, or what they’re texting.
Make these low-pressure conversations. Don’t spring them on your kid, but don’t schedule them rigidly, either.
A great time to have this chat is while you’re riding in the car together. When they’re in a good mood, casually ask which friends they’ve been texting. Get a sense for what they like to talk about and when these conversations happen.
If they say something that worries you, stay calm. Going ballistic will discourage them from being open with you in the future. Simply walk through your guidelines, and remind them that the goal is to keep them safe.
The bottom line is, texting is a privilege. Your kids should be safe and responsible about it, or they shouldn’t be doing it at all.