It's an instantaneous way to keep in touch and share moments that otherwise might be missed. Like parents everywhere, I've taken pains to teach my children to avoid the bad habits of texting, like ignoring the people you're with in order to text someone else, as well as the harmful kinds of texting -- deadly things like texting while driving, and immoral things like sexting.
It turns out, however, that there's more to worry about when it comes to texting.
While texting is nearly universal among teens, how much and how often they text might be a red flag waving.
A new study from Case Western Reserve Medical School delivers a warning for parents of adolescents: Too much texting is often a sign that bigger trouble is brewing. The study found a decisive link between the frequent texting habits of adolescents and the likelihood that those same teens would be involved in harmful and risky behaviors like binge drinking, sex, drugs, smoking and fighting.
Teens who are high-volume texters are 3.5 times more likely to be sexually active and 90 percent more likely to be promiscuous, reporting four or more sexual partners. They are twice as likely to drink and 43 percent more likely to binge drink. Moreover, super-texting teens are 41 percent more likely to use drugs and 55 percent more likely to have had a physical fight.
Who's at risk? Teens who send 120 text messages or more in a single day. They're called "hyper-texters."
Adults who don't text may view 120 texts in a day as impossibly high. But, before you breathe a sigh of relief that your own teen surely doesn't send that many texts, consider this: 120 texts spread over a teen's waking hours averages out to about 7 texts sent, per hour.
About one in five teens fall into the high-texting category. And, many more fluctuate in and out of those levels. While the study does not establish cause and effect, researchers say that high texting is a tip-off to parents that they better dig deeper and see what their teens are really up to.
As parents, we can't help but worry about what we don't know, at least when it comes to our kids -- and with good reason.
One of the worst feelings for a parent is to say, "If I had only known...."
A dear friend recently discovered what her daughter's friends already knew -- that "Tammy" was drinking and behaving in sexually precocious ways. This mom discovered the daughter's texts months after the fact; too late to spare her from the heartache and dangers of her behavior.
Keeping our children safe means that we've got to know who they are with and what they are doing.
We need to help them weigh the influence of risky situations and problem friendships so they will be less vulnerable to stray from their moral principles and our practical safeguards.
In many families, cell phones are a vital piece of the family communication network. So how do we keep our kids safe? The good news is that technology is on our side.
CNN reported on a new service available that allows parents to monitor literally everything their child does on the phone. "Mobile Nanny" works on most smart phones including the Android platform and the iPhone.
The price is reasonable; for under $50, you have access to instant information all year long. Parents can get instant access to their child's texts, photos, e-mails, and web activity -- in real time.
For some parents, a tool like this can mean the difference between "just a text" and a text that spells trouble.
Rebecca Hagelin is a pro-family advocate, speaker and author. Her latest book is "30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family." Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.howtosaveyourfamily.com.
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