Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Teenage Wasteland

So, while we're on the topic of teens this week, let's examine the current preferred form of communication for kids ages 13 to 18: texting.

Tara Parker-Pope hosted guest blogger Debbe Geiger on her Well blog yesterday. Geiger is a senior media relations officer at Duke University, a New Yorker transplanted to Durham, NC, and mother to a teen daughter and 'tween son. Her credentials for blogging on the topic of teen texting are certainly more serious than mine.

But where technology and teens intersect interests me quite a bit. Actually, most topics that relate to teens interest me, probably because my own teen years were something of a struggle. Memories of my own particular, suburban teenage wasteland are still vivid in my mind. Played out against a backdrop of vast, windowless, locker-lined hallways and late night visits to Denny's, fueled by a plaintive soundtrack packed with alternative angst--The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode--my teen years lasted a Wagnerian lifetime. Consequently, the idea of coaching my own offspring through these potentially perilous years began consuming my thoughts long before I felt my daughter's heel pushing against my ribcage.

But I digress.

Teens these days view texting as an inalienable right, much the same way my friends viewed having their own phone lines when we were growing up (a luxury I never enjoyed, by the way). It seems that texting is an essential form of communication for the 21st century teen, the absence of which could result in acute ridicule or, worse, irrelevance.

But, as Geiger points out, there are real and present dangers inherent in the largely unpoliced but disturbingly permanent realm of texting, not to mention online communications. Putting the whims of adolescent moods--the slings and arrows of our youth--into permanent, recorded writing is significantly different than complaining into a private phone line or notebook. There are consequences.

Geiger's husband apparently acknowledged these and other risks. He took the dramatic (and decidedly unpopular) step of banning texting from his children's lives. Just like that. Gone. Geiger--and many commenters on the blog--find this decision extreme, not to mention totally uncool.

But just between you and me, I'm totally down with Mr. Geiger.

The ubiquity of technology allows us to give public voice to just about every private thought we think. It's like technological Tourette's. I've seen plenty of people closer to middle age than they are to puberty make public declarations they've surely regretted in the morning. (I recently joined Twitter.) These are people who, by all accounts, should know better. The risks are amplified exponentially as the age of the texter or poster decreases.

I'm not Luddite enough to assert that we raise our children without access to technology. (What kind of hypocrisy would that be, to proclaim such a thought on a blog!) But I do believe that it is our responsibility as parents to manage our children's communications. Growing up, I had a limit on phone time. (And a ban on the private line, remember.) I advocate the same, responsible limitations and communcation management in our new century.

But I'm curious about your opinions. Are any of you dealing with this currently? For those of you who aren't, any thoughts on how you plan to handle it in the future?

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