Q: My son receives dozens of profane texts each day from a friend. I want to take the texting away, but my husband disagrees. How can I stop these rude texts?
A: It can be tempting to take away the technology children use when parents notice irresponsible behavior. Today, however, parents can use these situations as an opportunity to teach and reinforce critical skills kids will need as they become more tech savvy and independent.
Taking the texting option away from your son would be punishing him for something that his friend is doing. Before you jump to conclusions, try these simple and direct steps to stop nasty texts and give your son some lessons in handling these sticky tech issues.
Make sure you understand the situation. Before you react to your child’s foul-mouthed friend, consider the context. Were kids quoting a song or movie? Is there an inside joke going on? Did your child begin the swear-fest first? Ask your child to be honest about the nature of the texts. “I want to understand how these texts became so frequent and profane.”
Encourage your child to talk to his friend. Practicing responsible tech behavior is one skill this generation of kids will need to learn. Ask your child to talk to his friend about the rude texts and explain that his parents are concerned. You may be surprised to discover that the friend will actually stop-possibly out of embarrassment or fear of being found out by his own parent. Try this: “Tell Jimmy that he needs to stop sending texts with swears in them. Let him know you don’t want either of you to get into trouble or lose text privileges.”
Speak up yourself. If you have an opportunity to connect with your son’s friend when he’s over for a visit or during a carpool after school, take the opportunity to let him know you’ve seen inappropriate language used in texts. Avoid acting angry or threatening. Simply express your disapproval of the language and ask him to stop. Try this: “I’ve seen some of the texts you’ve sent Junior and noticed they contained some profane words. I don’t approve of that kind of language and I’d like you to stop sending those kind of messages.”
Talk parent to parent. If your son continues to get profane or disturbing messages from this friend on e-mail, social networks or instant messaging, consider calling the parents. Most parents will be grateful for some insights into their child’s tech transgressions if they do not feel attacked or insulted. Reinforce the fact that you are calling to report the behavior, not to criticize the child or parent. Try this: “I just wanted to let you know about some text messages exchanged between our boys. Many of them contained bad language and I thought you would want to know.”
Block the number. If your son continues to receive constant profane texts from his friend, even after a heart-to-heart discussion, consider blocking the number. Call your cell phone service provider to find out how to specifically block the number. Then, talk to your child about how his friend might react to the blocked calls. Reactions can range from anger, to embarrassment to bullying, and kids should be prepared to address these reactions.
Understand parental controls. Many cell plans allow a variety of parental controls, including copies of text messages or a limited phone book. Contact your cell service provider to see what is available and how this can help.
Sharon Cindrich is a mom and a writer specializing in helping parents understand technology.