That would have sounded crazy 20 years ago.
Now it’s a four-letter word that is the major way many of us communicate.
I love to text. It’s easy and fun. At times, a little intrusive. But it makes a lot of things more convenient.
Any form of communication has its pitfalls.
We have become accustomed to immediate availability, and can become super-sensitive to what not responding could mean, when often, it means absolutely nothing.
A couple of hours can turn, for some, into a sign of complete lack of interest. Non-caring. For people dating or playing around with the idea of a relationship, it can be the topic of endless, agonizing speculation about the meaning of the minutes or hours gone by.
The analysis doesn’t stop there. If you see that they began to write, and then stopped? Just what does that mean?
It can get a bit silly.
If you’re a parent and texting your child, the lack of response can feed already hard-to-control anxiety, escalating into texts to best friends, or even a call to the police. And all because your child’s phone is dead. Once again. Or they are at a park, a concert, or with friends and a parental message is just not okay.
Yet distrust is distrust, fear is fear. No matter how old you are.
Emojis help interpretation. But texting has no nonverbal cues. Since they are sometimes sent impulsively, or perhaps when there have been a few cocktails served, that can be more than problematic.
So all that is interesting, sometimes troubling. Something to be worked out, as texting prevails.
But that’s not what I am most concerned about.
I wonder if people realize how much innate power the act of texting in front of someone else, that is right there with you, has on a relationship. Or on the potential of one.
I had a young female patient, who was miserable here at our local University. She was from another state, and said that she could find no friends. She was, however, extremely close to her mother.
I asked her what she did as she walked between classes.
“I usually text my mom.”
“I wonder if the person right next to you, walking up the steps and going into the same classroom, might be someone to say hi to?”
She smiled. “I’d never thought of that.”
Let’s face it. The very physical act of texting detaches you from your immediate surroundings. You crunch over your phone. Your face is down, eyes averted. You aren’t available entirely. Maybe you laugh at something someone sent. You text back, without telling whoever is with you what’s going on.
After all, it’s private.
Then there’s the issue of distraction, or just plain escape.
There is a poignant sadness in seeing a family, or a couple, supposedly out for dinner. Every one of them, on their phones.
I never know quite what to think. Are they uncomfortable? Unhappy? Is there nothing to talk about? Do they not realize that time is a gift? Is the game they are playing, or the scores they are checking, that important?
Maybe you are that family.
[tweetthis]We teach our kids about respect and connection through our actions. That includes how you text.[/tweetthis]
Last, texting can be an easy route to trouble.
“She used to have her phone out, just laying around. I noticed that wasn’t happening anymore. She took it with her everywhere. When she took a shower, I picked it up.”
“I was using his phone to Google something, and saw their texts.”
Discovering texts has become a prevalent way for people to find out about affairs. Even if it’s not sexual. Maybe you are having a teasing, maybe flirty, fairly intimate relationship with someone else. But it’s a secret. Or you don’t share the conversations with your partner.
It’s deceit by omission.
My rules of thumb?
1) If you wouldn’t show what you are writing to your partner, then it’s better not to write it.
2) If you are with your partner — you are doing something together, and you get a text that you want or need to respond to, or you think of something you want to text to someone else? Have the courtesy of telling your partner who you are texting and what it is about.
Let them in on it.
3) If you get an inappropriate text from someone else, show it to your partner. Talk together about how to handle it.
4) Use texting as a way of reaching out every now and then in a loving way. Don’t have fun with your friends via text, and only use it with your partner to ask them to pick up a dozen eggs.
5) Recognize that if you show someone else a text your partner has sent you, he or she may feel that you are violating the privacy of your relationship.
Think about it before and if you do.
6) Establish times when technology takes a back seat. No tech Tuesday. Phone free Friday. Or dinner time in general.
7) Put away your own phone when you are with your kids, at least as much as you can. They are watching and learning from you. My toddler son used to hide my beeper (now quite a gadget of the past).
But the message was clear. “I need you here with me. Present and in my world.”
8) Talk with your kids about what you expect if you text them. Of course, it depends on their age. But having certain agreements, and those agreements being followed, is a way to build trust and show respect.
9) Remember that reading your child’s texts is like listening into their private conversations. And the older they get, it is important they have their own identity, away from you. Unless you have a good reason to suspect that your teenager is getting into trouble, don’t read them.
Thanks so much for reading! SUBSCRIBE and receive my free eBook, “Seven Commandments Of Good Therapy”, a guide on how to choose a therapist, or how to evaluate your current work.