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Texting tips for parents and teens

By Kate Tuttle
Globe Correspondent / September 11, 2010

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Parent-teen texting is pretty much the norm these days, says Dr. Gene Beresin, even among baby boomer parents who, he notes charitably “are not digital natives.’’ As Gen-X parents and their children age, “I think we’re going to be seeing more and more of it,’’ Beresin says.

Still, for now, communicating via text reverses the power dynamic between parent and teen — the teen is almost always going to be the expert in the technological realm, and the best a parent can hope for is to keep just one step behind. “It’s a nice switch,’’ says Dr. Laura Prager. “The kid has more expertise and can enlighten the parent.’’

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

■ There’s a hierarchy of communication technology: text is for normal, everyday exchanges; e-mail works for more formal and important situations, like to talk to a teacher about a late assignment; a phone call from a teenager represents urgency, even emergency (which may be why when parents call teens, they tend to feel pestered).

■ It’s probably best that parents not try to copy teen text lingo. Most grown-ups never master it, and only end up looking silly. Remember those high school teachers you had who tried to sound “cool,’’ “hip,’’ or “jive’’?

■ At the same time, a text is not a letter. You don’t need to start with “Dear Kristen’’ or end with a sign-off like “your mom.’’ They know who’s texting them.

One downside to parent-teen texting is the way that, just as technology now tethers us constantly to our jobs, destroying the notion of free time, constant availability means that teenagers tend to text when they need help solving problems they could tackle on their own.

“Back in the day your parents went to work and you went to school and you didn’t talk to them all day,’’ Bethany Allen says, “and you had to figure certain things out on your own. With my kids, they’re just able to constantly be in touch with me and ask me to help them with stuff.’’

In other words, teens: Before you text your parents to rescue you from a minor inconvenience, try to solve the problem on your own. You’ll be surprised what you may learn.

Kate Tuttle can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.