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Navigating T(w)een Texting: What Are Good Guidelines for Middle Schoolers?

Today, I am trying something different at “Espressos of Faith.” I was recently drafting a texting contract for one of my children, and I brainstormed many guidelines, but I’m sure I didn’t catch them all. I realize that people have different parenting styles. This is just mine. I can also see where a 6th grader would have (hopefully) tighter parent reins than an 8th grader who has shown responsibility and maturity in this area. I have a high schooler, a middle schooler, and an elementary school child. We have navigated this tricky world of online communication with one so far and are in the middle of the training ground with another.

This list is a brainstorm for training. It’s intended to be the guardrails necessary for helping a tween or young teen find safety and structure in the digital and online world. The wording is designed to let them know which statements are advice best heeded and which ones are imperatives, or non-negotiables. Again, this is a work-in-progress. I’m open to feedback.

Texting

Today, I pose these questions to readers:

What would you add?

What would you take away?

What would you change?

What has worked for you?

Why?

I’d love to hear from you.

Bonnie Lyn Smith,
Author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day

P.S. This topic first appeared at Espressos of Faith in Texting: Can We Raise Our Kids From a Posture of Fear?

P.P.S. risk(within)reason is a great resource for managing your child’s digital footprint.

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Texting, Emailing, and Messaging Guidelines for Middle Schoolers

You can use your iPod Touch after homework (unless we’ve made a different arrangement that day) if the following rules are adhered to:

1.) No texting/emailing/messaging/playing a game with or otherwise interacting with any friend before 8 AM and after 8 PM.

2.) No forwarding *anything* (especially *no video or photo content* but also no email forwarding) for anyone else, of anyone else, or about anyone else, even if you have his/her permission. Whatever you share or forward makes you culpable, not only in our home, but it leaves a digital footprint legally.

3.) No pressuring anyone else to respond/forward/share/get an app you want them to have, etc. In general, no pressuring people at all, without good reason (he/she needs to carry through his/her end of a school project, as one example).

4.) Overall, it’s usually best not to share a photo showing you are with a different friend on a group chat, especially if that chat only has three people on it, and you two are together, but the other person is not. There are exceptions to this, but in general, that is just polite social behavior in the tween/early teen world. Too many unnecessary hurt feelings and insecurities erupt at this age from unnecessary “look whom I’m with” photo postings. In general, avoid group chatting when you can. It leads to trouble. Almost always. Something often gets misunderstood when three or more people communicate digitally.

5.) Absolutely no exchanging of any game or other password on text/email/message in typed/video/audio form. Similarly, no asking for anyone’s passwords.

6.) It is best not to continue an extensive argument in digital form. You must be in person, FaceTime, or on the phone to have productive conversations where meaning and tone are understood. We’ve been there, done that, and lived through the damage. Even though these are the very words you hate to hear follow any parent statement, we’re going to say them anyway: Trust us on this one.

7.) Avoid repeat begging for a reply after second attempt to get your friend to respond to you. Nobody likes to come back and find 40 short texts left there just to annoy or get their attention.

8.) You do not need to follow anyone’s “orders.” You are your own person. You do not have to forward, go fetch, share homework, etc., just because a strong-willed friend is asking you to. “No” or “no, thank you” work beautifully in emails/messages/texts as much as they do in person.

9.) No recorded video conversations until you are in high school, and even then, with guidelines.

10.) No discussing another person in any way other than: “Was she in school today?” or “Have you heard from her?” You leave evidence of every reference, every conversation. We don’t care if it’s venting about a teacher, a parent, or another student: That needs to be done in person or talking on the phone.

11.) If we have to consider whether or not your emoji is offensive, it is. Get it off there.

12.) No pouty/sexy looks in pictures. We are not  ____________ [insert name of any current tabloid magazine celebrity of your choosing].

13.) No pictures of other people sent in text/message/email.

14.) No sharing of locations or plans to leave the house, go on vacation, etc.

15.) No interacting with someone you don’t know. Don’t even join a group chat if you don’t know every member by face and context. Verify, verify, verify.

16.) No telling anything private or confidential in a text/message/email. Any discussions meant in confidence should happen in person or on the phone and with discretion. Nothing’s a secret once it’s in typed/audio/video form.

17.) No threatening/pressuring language of any kind, not even: “I will be upset with you if…” That is putting conditions on someone with emotional manipulation. We don’t play that way, nor do we respond to those kind of messages. Please let us know if you receive those, so we can help you.

18.) No sharing anyone else’s email, text address, phone number, or address with others, even if he/she gives you permission. That is for that person to share.

19.) The texting device gets put on counter or away during meals, family conversations, appointments, church, and any other location you need to talk to people, and it can only be consulted after homework or during designated breaks. It reports back to the dock by 8 PM.

20.) We never text and walk (or bike, or, when you’re older: drive). We would never cross the street or parking lot looking at a texting device. We value our lives more than our devices. 🙂

21.) Failure to respect boundaries and rules results in apologies given individually to people who were involved. Other parents may sometimes have to be involved. So, be careful how you manage rules so you can keep yourself safe and others safe, and you can avoid embarrassing parent involvement.

22.) Passwords can’t change without letting us know. We have a right to spot-check at any time without receiving any attitude about it.

Please sign here that you understand your responsibilities: ___________________________

If this list seems too long, too hard to remember, over the top in any way, or stressful, it’s okay. We get it. It just means that you are not ready to have a texting device, and we can revisit this when you’re ready. We want you to feel comfortable with this new responsibility. Every rule on here is because we love you so incredibly much.

Love,
Mom and Dad,

The People Whose Job It Is to Keep You Safe and to Train You in Becoming a Good Citizen, Friend, Person
Also the People Who Feed, Clothe, and Shelter You

*This blog has been shared at Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Grace & TruthFaith-Filled Fridays, A Little R & Rand Christian Mommy Blogger.

 

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Texting: Can We Raise Our Kids From a Posture of Fear?

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About a year ago, I had a discussion with Kid 2 (then age 10) about internet safety. Computer use at home is always in our line of sight, and really, only certain sites are approved by us. Searches need to be educational in purpose and have our okay and assistance. But it’s a good reminder what awful stuff awaits out there and why we have to guard our minds and eyes. It’s not really a very safe place out there. “Stay on the sidewalks I draw for you, Child, so you don’t get hurt. If you step off, I can’t protect you, and there’s no turning back or erasing that kind of scariness or darkness from your mind.”

In the meantime, I had a very conscientious and caring parent in my circle of friends raise an interesting question recently about navigating the texting world with our teens and tweens, and I feel it is such a valid concern so many parents of teens—and nowadays tweens—face, I wanted to discuss it blog-style.

People may disagree with me, and that’s okay, but I feel like the world of texting is actually an open garden of practicing social responsibility as well as building trust with my children, when done correctly (and at the right ages—the “right” age being something we parents may differ on). My oldest has had an iTouch since Christmas of his 6th grade year. He isn’t a phone talker (which I celebrate, since I’m not either), and he isn’t much into emailing, but the quick text-fests he and his friends occasionally engage in offer a space where he can practice so many things.

(As a side note, we agreed to him getting the highest-memory iPod Touch he could get at the time because he would use the memory for his deep love of music and a few apps, but only if he saved and paid half of it himself. That was about a year or more of saving. Paying for half made us feel more justified in using the iTouch as leverage the few times we needed to, and it also got across the greater message that while he saved up and persevered to earn something, during the time that he continues to live with us and be otherwise provided for, nothing that expensive is so much in his ownership that we can’t remove it when the attitude needs adjustment. And as a result, we have rarely had to remove it. He understands that while he alone uses it, it’s still only half his. We stumbled upon this concept by trial/error in our parenting. It worked with the iTouch anyway.)

My kids know that when they text or email:

1.) They need to write it as if all parents are watching, and in most cases—we all are.
2.) In general, photos of people should not be sent, at least not without me reviewing it first and only on very rare occasion.
3.) Content needs to be edifying.
4.) Conversation needs to be pure.
5.) It’s not a place to share confidences/secrets.
6.) We, parents, have all passwords and can check at any point to see what the conversation is about.

I would never embarrass my child by referring to it to anyone else, but I do reserve the right to spot-check.

I am not afraid of letting him text because, if I’m committed to spot-checking it, it more or less creates an open window into his world: What are they talking about? thinking about? paying attention to?

They learn:

–Self-control and restraint
–Time management
–How to better communicate and be understood in written/typed word
–Where the dangers are

So, I choose not to parent from a posture of fear on this one—caution and monitoring: yes, but fear: no. I choose to roll with the latest technology and put up the right safeguards and lessons to make it another place to teach my children. I don’t love everything about it, but there is good to be gleaned from it, if we’re deliberate in our parenting.

That said, sometimes we have a child who is more defiant and strong-willed. Sometimes we have to pull the rug out on his/her communication until he/she is more respectful. I call that boundary-parenting and good discipline, and not fear-based. Fear-based parenting* says everything is scary and needs our handholding through it, to the point we can’t let go, and we miss the chance to have our kids learn greater independence and responsibility.

And let me end by saying that handing a 10 year old a texting device is completely different than giving one to a 13 year old; obviously, there would have to be more structure and monitoring to go with the younger ages. No judgment on anyone else whatsoever, but in our house, my kids have to be almost 12 before any texting device becomes part of their world, and any emailing before 12 has to be approved by me before it gets sent. But if you have a younger peep with a device like that, then I of course support more structure, rules, and checking. It’s not about the age, so much, as it is about how willing are you to be on top of it? I personally wasn’t willing to “go there” until they were on the edge of teen and until they had navigated enough in-person social conflict to manage digital communication as an extension of that—an additional challenge.

To me, the scariest thing about texting isn’t the device in my own kid’s hand; it’s the unmonitored device in the hands of another. Like anything else, all I can do is teach them how to avoid pitfalls, be wise, protect themselves the best that they can, and tend to their own character.

Even if your rules are different than mine, what has worked for you on this issue? 

*Great references for fear-based versus grace-based parenting can be found below:

Kimmel, Tim. Grace-Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free. Nashville, TN.: W Pub. Group, 2004.

Chip Ingram is a wonderful resource for parenting in this new high-technology age and can be found at:
http://livingontheedge.org

 

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