Is Your Teen’s Texting Habit Out of Control?

Posted September 12, 2008 by

Photo of elisabeth

How do you feel about your teen’s texting habit?

My cousin’s son recently told me that his girlfriend broke up with him by text. He was devastated, but the two of them still haven’t talked face-to-face since he got the message two weeks ago. It makes me wonder, what are teens losing out on? I think hard conversations can teach us how to be empathetic, sensitive and diplomatic — you actually see what effect your words are having on the other person. To me, a text message is like shooting a dart out into the atmosphere, and never having to feel its sting.

My cousin also complained to me that her son is always texting away on his cell phone at night in his room, losing a lot of sleep and racking up  phone bills.

But it’s not just emotions or finances we should be concerned about, it’s also physical safety — as you’ve probably heard by now, quite a few teen-agers have died  texting while driving. (And many teens have ended up in emergency rooms for texting while doing other things, including cooking, riding bicycles, and even horse-back riding. )

On the plus side, one of my friends with teenagers in the house told me that texting can sometimes be a benefit. When she and her husband want to check in on their daughter, it’s a non-intrusive way to say “what’s going on” without calling attention to the fact that mom or dad is checking up on her.

How do you handle your texting teen? (Not to mention the phonebills!) Any tips for putting limits on their texting habit? And for those of you who think text messages have been a good thing for your kids, tell us why.


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. boltgirl (Edit) Report

    Only for the purpose that we can use a cell phone as a positive motivation for my children have we permitted our teens (12, 14, 15) to earn cell phones this school year. During the summer they had the opportunity to complete 75% of their weekly “Goals Chart” (Lehman calls it “Behavior Chart”). Today is day 1 of them having the phones (although one child is taking a little longer to learn, and she will hopefully earn hers in 2 weeks) and I am drawing-up our family cell phone contract, which is why I am on this site. Many great ideas – thank you all 🙂 The most important one to me is mentioned above – the ability to be at peace in quietness. So, to start out, our kiddos will not have texting use from 8 PM – 7:30 AM, from 8:AM until 2:45 PM After a time of proving respectable and responsible, they can earn more time and texts.

  2. Julie (Edit) Report

    We got phones for our children last year, when they were 12 & 16 for the purposes of emergencies, primarily. It wasn’t long before we had to put restrictions on our son’s phone. Our now 13 year-old girl rarely texts, while our now 17 year-old was racking up 10000-15000 texts. While we have unlimited texting, we limit him to 5000 texts. When he goes over, he loses his phone, except when he is driving somewhere. He is “unplugged” on Sundays and after 9:00 on school nights. Yes, he’s 17, but he is his own worst enemy and has realized and admitted that, on the occasions when he has lost his phone privileges, for that’s what they are since we pay for them, he is so much LESS stressed–and it shows.

    I believe the CONSTANT communication and involvement/immersion of today’s kids with each other’s lives causes them a lot of unnecessary stress, not to mention the need to constantly be in communication with SOMEone and, to a certain extent, a discomfort with the whole concept of solitude. And, yes, I do check his phone messages. I like to get into his head and also make sure he’s not crossing lines, which has happened on more than one occasion–inappropriate language, inappropriate photos, including suggestive ones from the people he texts most to: girls, many of which are immature, insecure, drama queens. Too much is said, these days, through typing, whether it’s texting or on the computer, that would not otherwise be said–and that is not usually a good thing.

    When this contract runs out, he will be almost 18 so, if he wants his own phone, he will have to pay for it. Cell phones are nice and convenient to have, but they can easily become a thorn in our sides.

  3. Lynn (Edit) Report

    Thanks for all the EXCELLENT advise! Our 15 yr. old is obsessed w/ texting! I’m going to incorporate some of the rules mentioned above. Wish me luck!

  4. samantha (Edit) Report

    We made some rules like they cant have any grades below C average or they dont get to text, we also have it where phones are not allowed to be used during family time such as dinner, and they have to turn there phones in before bed, school nights its 9pm and on weekends it 10pm, thats how we make sure they stay safe

  5. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Dear Frustrated,
    My friend’s son is 13 and he was also caught texting all night recently. My friend and her husband ended up calling the cell phone company and blocking all texts to his phone from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night. Also, her son has to leave his cell phone downstairs when he goes to sleep.

    I agree with you, though–I don’t know what these kids need to talk about all night! (But I have to admit that if I’d had a cell when I was 14, I would probably have tried to do the same thing.)

  6. frustrated (Edit) Report

    I have a 14 year old son who receives texts at all hours of the night from girls. I feel like all I do is scold him about how inappropriate it is for these girls to be texting him. His response is that he sees nothing wrong with it. I question the character of middle school girls who text boys in such an obsessive manner. I told him I am easy to take the phone away from him at 9:00 at night, After reading some of these responses maybe that would be a good compromise. I do not feel it is my business to read the messages (although I would really like to know what is so important that they have to text all night). It’s so frustrating to try to figure out what to do.

  7. Concerned (Edit) Report

    I have a 15 year old daughter and there are so many texts coming now, which were not before, from boys. I guess because she is in highschool now and there are so many people to meet. It amazes me how the boys curse and ask if she “parties”. Also, I have seen they have asked for a pic of her in her swimsuit when we were at the lake. She playes a select sport and is very busy most of the time and her grades are good right now. How much does a parent have to worry about what these crude boys are texting ? HELP !

  8. ro (Edit) Report

    My 17 year old daughter has unlimited texting…well “had” unlimted texting until she abused the privilege and was staying up until 12:30 or 1 am texting then leaving for gym and school at 0500. She is an athlete and works out a lot and has to drive 1 hour to practice and home several nights a week. 5 hours of sleep was not adequate and she was risking her academic record as well as her health. She assured us she could handle it and could not. For the time being we have restricted her phone use until 9 pm at night until 0600 in the morning, except weekends, then it is unlimited. We will revisit the restrictions in a few months and hopefully by mid year her senior year she will be fully dependent with regard to cell phone usage. I used to try and read her cell phone texts, but I don’t any more. I realize that texting is much like casual conversation with teens these days and I would not ‘bug” her clothing to hear her every conversation, nor do I want to. At some point they have to feel trusted. We are attempting to convey this to her, and hope that she will make good decisions.

  9. Pancetta (Edit) Report “clearly” don’t have children.
    What in the heck are you even talking about? Should we not have restrictions in how fast we drive on the freeways?
    We should have the right to go as fast as we want, correct?
    Children MUST have limitation in order to feel safe.
    That is Parenting 101.
    They won’t KNOW they are taking chances and risks UNLESS they have been able to grow within a structure that they can one day grow up and out from!!

    It sounds like you must have had very strict parents and I’m sorry for that.

  10. Unreal. (Edit) Report

    I think it’s rather ridiculous that you set limits on your kids texting. Let them express their right to free speech, give them some responsibility in life, because although you think your helping your own ridiculous cause, those kids that you’re raising are going to be the same ones that grow up scared to take chances and will always be relying on you because of your restrictions and limitations you so called “empowered parents” have laid upon them in their years of growing up. Think about that.

  11. Jane L (Edit) Report

    I am a college student as well and I absolutely hate texting. It is unnecessary. You can get the same message across by talking on the phone. What bothers me about texting is people do it at innapropriate times. You would never see someone at dinner with a group of people talking on the phone carrying on a conversation. Yet with texting you see it all the time. For example when my teenage sister is in a family setting like we are all riding in the car, she will be texting. It is so rude and annoying.Another example is work, people text while they are at work all the time but noone would ever actually be making a personal call. I wish people would have more common sense and respect for those around them.

  12. Katherine (Edit) Report

    I’m a college student with a Blackberry and I text quite a bit. (~2,000 a month, usually more during school breaks.) It’s how I communicate with my family and friends. I don’t do it during class EVER though. The phone stays on silent in my bag. When I study, it’s on silent on the desk.

    I had a phone all through high school too and my parents didn’t care too much about my texting as long as I got good grades and did well overall. I’ve had unlimited for years.

    I think it’s a little odd to read that some parents make their kids hand over the phones to read their messages! That’s awfully offensive to me. My parents wouldn’t listen on my phone conversations with friends, nor would they snoop on my messages. I don’t know, maybe that’s considered “good parenting” but I think it’s a little protective and shows the child that you don’t trust them. Eh, but what do I know? I don’t want kids anyway.

  13. Shyla (Edit) Report

    Hello. I recently finished high school and then left to work at the federal government while simulatenously taking classes in college. Texting with my Blackberry is an essential requirment of my job in order to stay connected to my supervisor and co-workers for time sensitive projects and for meetings. But after 3 years of texting I’m finding I can’t stop even outside of work. Help! My habit to text is starting to conquer my social life and not helping further my existing relationships with my friends and family. How can I stop getting the urge to text at any moment?

  14. Louise (Edit) Report

    thanks for this one – so far we dont’ have texting issues but it’s nice to know that we can limit it via the phone company if and when we have to. thanks for the information

  15. Winelowich (Edit) Report

    hi im actually a teen doing a debate on texting, which is how i found this website. once upon a time, i didn’t have unlimited, but when i racked up the phone bill for texting so much, my parents assigned me extra chores to pay it off. the same with my sister when she used too many minutes talking on the phone. however, i mostly use text for hmwk help and sports updates (ex: games been cancelled, practices have been changed, etc.) when my parents saw that, they got me unlimited text. somehow they are able to see what i text without taking my phone. oh, and for the driving issue, my mother said if she was ever told of me driving and texting at the same time, i wouldnt lose the phone, i would lose the car and my license, and would have to start paying my own bills.

  16. sue (Edit) Report

    I had texting turned off. It is costly, unless you have a plan, and I just decided he could live without it. Until the day he is paying the bill, it stays off. No internet access via cell phone, and no texting. It is also quite distracting, and very tempting to him at inappropriate times (during school, etc). They can live without it, though I know that’s hard to believe 🙂

  17. marian (Edit) Report

    I was driving down the interstate and came up behind my son. Since I had followed him on the road, I knew the time that he was driving. When he got home, I checked his texts and the times that they were sent and received. I was horrified to learn that he was texting while driving on the interstate at 70 mph I immediately called and cancelled the texting from his phone. He was pretty upset, but not as much as I would have been if he had injured himself or someone else while driving.

  18. Becky (Edit) Report

    I have a rule with my soon to be 15 year old girl that the phone goes into the kitchen at 10:00 during the school year and 10:30 during the summer. I always check the phone bill for the times that after that when she might me at a friends house and I can not monitor. She also is not allowed to delete the txt’s so that at any point I can come in a check what is being said. If she deletes then she looses the phone. No ifs and or buts!!

  19. Mrs G. (Edit) Report

    My 13 year old son has a phone that is provided by his bio dad. The phone gets consficated if I do not get a copy of the bill so that I can monitor who and when he calls. If there are calls after 8pm there are consequences. The only thing I can’t monitor is the texting. I will check with his father to see if he can set limits on the texting. Usually if he gets caught texting after 8pm the phone would get taken away until the next morning.

  20. S~ (Edit) Report

    Smart limits from ATT work pretty well with the texting, just not some of the other features. Also, we have set a limit of 10.30pm to have the cell phones handed over on school nights – we charge them in our bedroom. They just have to get used to having all questions answered by their friends before 10.30pm. Definite resistance at first, but, getting easier as they realize we mean business.

  21. mrs wrigley (Edit) Report

    We use Verizon wireless cell phone service. My son was over 5000 texts in one month, not to mention all hours of the day and night. I went onto their website, and they have “usage controls”. Since I found this, the phone restricts calls during the times I set. It is blocked between 9pm and 7am every day, and between 8-3 on school days. This has really seemed to help keep texting down, as well as no trouble in school. The great this about this is that you can put in your own numbers as trusted numbers, so your call, or text always go through. This has cut down on TONS of stress.

  22. Don (Edit) Report

    T-Mobile Has Family allowance $2.00 a month. You can set always allow and never allow number. Set number of minutes and text messages, As well as a dollar amount for things like ring tones and games. you can set times during the day or night when it only allows the numbers on your list. It works great if they do their chores/homework they get more phone time, But if they misbehave the phone gets disabled.

  23. Jennifer (Edit) Report

    AT&T has what they call “Smart Limits”. It allows me to set up time restrictions (no calls or texts)and I can also put a cap on the number of text messages allowed. They get a text when 75% of their text limit has been reached. I can add up to 15 phone numbers that can call or text during the “restricted” time so they can always get in touch with me or vice versa. I always have one set for “sleep” – the night time hours. You can add one for study, etc. I think it’s an additional $5 a month but I think it’s worth every penny because I can log in and and essentially turn their phone “off” in about 30 seconds without physically taking it away.

  24. Mary (Edit) Report

    We make a rule no cell phones at dinner. They can not answer or make calls. We have so many hours of texting oon on our phan. Somehow my kids can monitor how many minutes
    es they have used. If they go over they pay.



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