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How to control those texts!

By Michael Connolly

It's likely that many parents have given in to all the pleading and have recently purchased a back-to-school cell phone for their 5th or 6th grader. If you're one of them, congratulations on holding out for so long! Seriously, it's not unheard of for kids as young as 7 or 8 to be walking around with their own phone these days, many of them with some form of Internet access!

Although it might sound a little indulgent to splurge for such a sophisticated digital toy for a 5th grader, I'm not sure it's really that big a deal. Most of them already have iPods or some kind of video gaming device and, after all, don't these gadgets come with all kinds of promises of personal accountability and responsible behavior? I would normally agree, if it wasn't for one thing…texting!

Texting has rapidly become the primary (only?) means of communication among kids today. The silent chat that can go undetected for hours; the invisible note passed around the classroom; the OMG shorthand language that can be so harmless and yet can cause so many problems. (See sexting.)

According to the Nielsen Company, Americans send 75 billion texts a month, with 13-17 year-olds leading the way. Teens with cell phones average almost 2,300 texts a month compared with "just" 203 calls. I don't know about you, but 75 texts a day is hard to fathom. And that's just the average kid. That means there are plenty of kids hitting 200 or more texts a day, which must qualify as some kind of soon-to-be-named addiction.

If we are going to start our 5th graders down the cell phone route, let's not fool ourselves. Despite our wishful thinking, that cell phone is not going to be used to call grandma twice a week. With the speed at which technology and web-based services are progressing, traditional calls are going to be one of the least-used features of tomorrow's smartphones, drowned out by a tidal wave of texting, games and other must-have apps.

So I suggest that along with that first cell phone comes a fairly rigid set of rules. Rules that we can make stick for as long as possible, and which will hopefully instill a set of best practices that will carry over to those critical early teen years. Here they are – five simple suggestions on how to control those texts:

Make sure the phone is out of the bedroom overnight
Despite their assurances, the seductive ping from an incoming text just can't be ignored! Remove the phone, and the problem.

Keep the phone turned off at school
This is important. Involve the school and try and make this a strict rule. It avoids the "note passing" and even text-cheating that occurs later, when class sizes get bigger and there is less monitoring of individual student behavior.

Look for a plan that limits the number of texts
Despite the prevalence of unlimited texting plans, most of the major carriers have plans or controls that will help you restrict the number of texts that can be sent. 300 a month is more than adequate for tweens and it will help them develop the discipline of conserving texts and minutes.

Monitor their texting activity
We'll call it monitoring, not spying, but either way it's essential you know how and when they are using their cell phones. Go online and take a look at the phone activity; don't wait until the end of each month. Check they are observing the no-nighttime, no-school time rules and make sure you know who is on the other end of their frequent text activity.

Set an example
Above all, set a good example. If you limit their phone time only to spend your whole life e-mailing and texting yourself, they will know that you're not serious and that the rules are there to be broken.

A little discipline now will go a long way in teaching them how to respect and properly utilize their expensive new toy.  

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