Texting Your Kids: Is It A Good Way To Communicate With Them?

The Huffington Post Canada   First Posted: 09/06/2011 1:06 pm EDT Updated: 11/02/2011 6:12 am EDT

For many Canadian teens and pre-teens, texting is the choice mode of communication. While their parents may still be making phone calls and (gasp!) trying to spark conversation at the dinner table, the next generation is content to check in with their friends and family through a scant few letters typed into a phone.

But is something getting lost in the translation? As reported in the Vancouver Sun, a new study has shown that while a mother's voice is soothing in times of stress, a text message is not.

The study involved girls aged 7-12 who were subjected to a stressful public event. Girls who received comforting words by phone or in person experienced a rise in oxytocin levels (a hormone linked to bonding) and a decrease of cortisol levels (a stress hormone). But when the girls got a text-message from their moms, the cortisol and oxytocin levels remained the same as girls who had no maternal comfort at all.
"You really need to hear that voice; just reading a written message isn't good enough," study lead Leslie Seltzer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison told the Sun.

This kind of research prompts the question – Is text messaging a good way to communicate with children? Can it be a useful tool or does it lack the benefits of face-to-face parental interaction? We asked some leading Canadian parenting experts for their opinions on texting and kids:

Joe Rich, social worker, guest therapist for The Marilyn Denis Show and author of 'Parenting: The Long Journey'

"Texting is a terrible form of communication between parents and children, but absolutely necessary without a doubt."

"Every parent should be texting, learning the art of it, the language of it, the unexpected abruptness of it. It's not a great way to communicate because you don't have all the sensory input, you don't have tone of voice. So there's a lot of misinterpretation. If texting is your only form of communication with your child, you need to worry."

"But there's some great things about texting – like the immediacy. If you ask them to give you a call after school you will never hear from them, but they can text you while they're walking, talking and eating a snack. Also, all of the emotional icons have brought a lot of emotional stuff into communication. So the teenaged boy after his game texts, 'Won,' and a happy face. But he would never phone you and say, 'I'm so happy!'"

Sara Dimerman, therapist, parent educator and author, 'Am I a Normal Parent?'

"What triggers confrontation between kids and parents most often is a parent's style of communication and not so much what they are saying. Sometimes a raised voice or sarcastic tone can trigger a reaction that shuts down communication. By communicating via text or email, parents can take more time in finding the 'right' words to communicate what they are feeling. And without the sound effects, kids may 'listen' more attentively and then take more time in responding."

Judy Arnall, parenting expert and author, 'Discipline Without Distress'

"Text and email should be used only for superficial sharing of information, such as 'When will you be home for dinner?' or, 'What time is the pick-up?' It should never, never be used for meaningful conversations, whether between parents and children or other relationships. Those types of confrontations should occur in person. Best way is to engage in an activity such as a walk, where kids don't have to make eye contact, but the parent can pick up the non-verbal cues of 'what they are really not saying.'"

Beverley Cathcart-Ross, parent educator, counselor and founder of The Parenting Network

"If you have a family with two working parents, texting may be the lifeline to their child, it may be the one way they may be able to shoot off a 'How's your day going? How was that test?' It's the lesser of two evils – If I can shoot off a quick text in between meetings, I'd rather do that than not communicate at all."

"The other key thing is, what is the tone of your message? On the phone you can communicate with inflection, but if I'm texting and saying, 'Get home on time,' you don't know if your parents are mad at you or being controlling so you think, 'That's it, I'm going to come home late just to show them.' Texting can get you in trouble as a parent, so parents need to be much more aware of what they're saying and how they're saying it."

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