Digital First Media
When my son was in seventh grade I drove him one night to meet his girlfriend at the movies. I think it was one of the few times they interacted in person. He said they didn’t spend much time talking at school but spent a fair amount of time texting with each other. They probably ended up speaking more to each other over text than they would have in person.
My 13-year-old daughter regularly texts me with updates about what she is doing after school, while my 10-year-old was able to figure out how to load a texting app on her iPod so that she could text her friends and me. When she is at her mom’s house, she often texts me to see how I’m doing. She even texted me on New Year’s Eve to make sure I was doing something and not sitting around being "lonely."
And recently, I was out to dinner with a friend and noticed that the couple sitting across from us wasn’t talking to each other. They were looking down at their phones and texting.
Such etiquette violations have drawn the wrath of Cindy Post, etiquette maven Emily Post’s great-grandaughter: "If you are in a situation where your attention should be focused on others, you should not be texting."
I’ve actually gotten to the point where if I’m in a social situation -- or in the car -- I will shut my phone off.
You don’t have to look far to find information about the evils of texting:
n Texting while driving kills. In 2010 driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes -- with 3,092 people killed -- according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
n Teens text too much. Some estimates place the number of texts by teens at more than 3,000 per month, which can be seen as a gateway to "risky behavior."
n Texting can’t replace face-to-face communication in relationships. One study last year suggested using common sense. If you have to make an apology or need to resolve a disagreement, do it face-to-face.
So, given all we know about digital communication, and after exploring the idea of "Confessions" pages in my recent column, I couldn’t shake my questions about why students were using these pages to anonymously "confess" problems they were having in life. Were students who were truly in trouble getting the help they needed?
I realized this week that perhaps I was being a bit "old school" in my thinking when I came across this article in The New York Times about a crisis hotline that was using texting technology to communicate with teens in trouble. When I thought about it, I realized that Crisis Text Line was being smart and making it easy for teens to reach out when they were hurting. It’s an innovative concept: Try to reach people where they digitally reside. I set up Facebook pages for some classes I teach because I know it’s the best way to reach my students.
Still skeptical? Watch a moving presentation by Nancy Lublin, the group’s founder, at a TED talk two years ago. I’ve watched a few TED talks but, as a parent with two teens and one pre-teen, this presentation reached out and grabbed me by the throat. The fact that texting has a 100 percent open rate has caused me to re-think my previously paternalistic approach to texting.
Is the texting approach to counseling effective? In an interview, Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Boston said:
"Texting is a very normal way of communicating for kids, so it feels very comfortable. You can very privately and invisibly text for help in a way that feels very secure. A traditional hotline isn’t as immediate, and it doesn’t feel as private because kids feel identified by their voice."
The New York Times interviewed Ron White, the chief program officer for Samaritans Inc., a suicide prevention organization in Boston that is part of the Crisis Text Line network:
"On the phone there is some time building a rapport ... but young people on text tend to get right to the point. They go zero to 60 in a couple of seconds. The second or third message might be, ‘I am sitting here with pills and thinking about killing myself.’ "
The stop-and-go nature of texting -- those seeking help may come back at a later time -- is also front-and-center. Counselors are able to access previous messages when the troubled texter returns.
As a single parent dealing with technology issues, I’ve often been critical of how texting now dominates communication. But I will admit that when I’m trying to track down my kids, or trying to schedule things with them after school, I turn to texting as well. I know it’s the best way to reach them.
A hotline that allows kids to use texting to talk through serious issues they are facing? Why wouldn’t we as parents want to promote that?