“Mom, I’m trying to tell you something!” the 13-year-old daughter cries as she watches her mother back out of the driveway. Often with our busy lives, it seems we are like ships passing in the night with our teens. It’s either that or we’re like loud, obtrusive fog horns to them. The key to improved communications may just lay right in the palm of your hand.
It’s your cell phone. Or your mouse. Most people younger than age 40 already know that Text Messaging (TM) and Instant Messaging (IM) is hot. You should give messaging a whirl simply because it’s a great way to stay in touch with your teen… and believe it or not, it’s actually fun! For parents on the fence, here’s the 4-1-1 on TM and IM.
Cell phones have the ability to send and receive short text messages. This service is referred to as SMS (or, short message service on your bill). When you create a text message using your cell’s keypad, you are generally limited to very short message lengths, about 160 characters. Once you create your message, you can send it to your teen’s cell by entering her phone number. The message is transmitted within seconds; the recipient’s phone will beep and the message will appear on their screen.
So what’s so great about that? If you ask a teen, she’ll tell you. It’s cool! It’s like passing notes, and best of all – insert a knowing giggle here – parents can’t eavesdrop on conversations!
Text messaging is a quiet way to communicate (cell phones can be set to receive messages in complete silence) with someone at work, in class or while eating out. Additionally, TM does not eat up precious talk minutes. This is especially handy if someone is “on-call” like a doctor or an expectant father. And, like email, you can send a quick text message to several friends at a time, making it a convenient way to” talk” to your daughter’s circle all at once. But keep in mind, there is also a fee added to your bill for texting.
A Language is Born
Because TM requires limited characters, every letter and space counts. That’s why (to many educators’ chagrin), a new “language” has evolved. Several Web sites exist to help novices learn the abbreviated lingo, such as Lingo2Word.com or Webopedia.com.
Now that you have the 4-1-1 on TM, U2 can pick up UR cell phone and try it. It’s actually easier than it might seem, and once you learn how to enter and send a message from your phone will be to read your “Have a gr8 game!” message from you.
Teens love instant messaging (IM), too, and can spend hours in IM chats with friends. Kids quickly embraced instant messaging because of the immediacy it provides over email. It’s just another alternative to the telephone, allowing instant communications with friends for hours without clogging up the family phone or using precious cell phone minutes. IM works best when you have a fast Internet connection such as DSL or cable modem.
Instant messaging allows you to create a list of people to chat with but you do have to use the same brand of messenger program. Your contact list allows you to know when that person is online, and they know when you’re online as well. It’s really the beauty behind the social networking sites that are so vibrantly popular now: Facebook.com and MySpace.com.
When you send or receive an instant message, the IM program opens a small window in which you can type and view the messages sent. Most of the popular IM programs provide other useful features such as:
- Create a custom chat room with several online friends
- Share links to favorite Web sites
- Look at pictures stored on a friend’s computer
- Play sound files for friends
- Exchange files by sending them directly to a friend’s computer
Typically, IM programs install in the startup folder of your operating system, allowing the IM application to start when the computer starts. This will make the computer start-up time take a little longer, so if you don’t want this to occur, manage it through the application’s properties menu. Parents should understand the pros and the cons of the IM program’s features, as well as how to uninstall or disable the application, if this type of communication becomes bothersome or is no longer fun.
Instant messaging can be entertaining and social, but encourage your teens to use common sense when using all forms of online communication, including chat rooms and social networking sites. To set up your family’s IM program, learn to use the command features provided such as “Ignore Users,” “Hide Your Identity,” “Become Invisible” and “Hide Your IP Number.” Teach all members in your household who use IM not to ever send any personal or financial information (including addresses, social security and account numbers, or user IDs and passwords via IM chat sessions).
Instant messaging can be a fun and convenient tool when you have lots of friends or family members to communicate with online. It’s a quick alternative to the phone and can make your online time more socially rewarding. For parents, it’s also a great way to build communication with teens, especially if you are at work and she is at home … online … texting away!
Susan Swindell Day is editorial director for this magazine. She has four children, ages 5, 9, 11 and 13 and she is learning to be a texting aficionado.
TM and IM Acronyms:
AFASIK: AS FAR AS I KNOW
AFN: ALL FOR NOW
BAK: I’M BACK
BBL: BE BACK LATER
BFN: BYE FOR NOW
CUL8R: SEE YOU LATER
DEGT: DON’T EVEN GO THERE
EG: EVIL GRIN
FITB: FILL IN THE BLANKS
GA: GO AHEAD
GOH: GET OUT OF HERE
H&K: HUGS AND KISSES
HB: HURRY BACK
IDN: I DON’T KNOW
IMO: IN MY OPINION
JAS: JUST A SECOND
KIT: KEEP IN TOUCH
LOL: LAUGH OUT LOUD
LY: LOVE YOU
NM: NEVER MIND
OTW: ON THE WAY
P911: PARENT ALERT
RU: ARE YOU?
TIA: THANKS IN ADVANCE
TTYL: TALK TO YOU LATER
UW: YOU’RE WELCOM
YBS: YOU’LL BE SORRY
Because texting and instant messaging can be done with a certain amount of privacy, and because teens love doing it so much, consider designating specific times during the day when your teen is allowed to “play” with her cell or computer – especially since an excess of it can interfere with homework!
becoming a texter …
The shorthand used in texting makes it simple to use a cell phone to send a message. The reason why you see your teen’s thumb flying so fast is due to the set-up of the keyboard. Look at your cell phone. The “2” key is ABC, the “3” key is DEF and so forth. If you want to type a “C” you press the “2” key three times; A-B-C. Your teen has learned to do this quite rapidly and that’s why it looks so incredible.
Texting is as simple as opening up the “text” function on your cell phone and instead of making a call, typing in some text. You can also send short messages to an email address. Text is a convenient way to stay connected to your teen and for them to stay connected to you. Your son or daughter may really appreciate getting a text message from you encouraging them on the day of a big test or football game.