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Archive for Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Double Take: Set boundaries to keep teen tech in check

September 29, 2009

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Samantha: With cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging and social networking sites, there are too many ways for couples to be in contact.

Balancing all this technology is like baking cookies — the ingredients need to be in balance. While there are thousands of combinations that would make a good cookie, the balance of the ingredients to each other is what makes a recipe a success. I hope these suggestions are helpful in keeping your relationship tasteful:

1. Don’t text (or e-mail/instant-message) about any topic that might carry emotion. Vocal tone is impossible to discern in an e-mail or text message. Texting is best used to make plans or get a quick update, not to have a conversation. Don’t use texting to talk out any of your problems. The “call” button on your phone allows you to address problems in an interactive way; better yet, address your problems in person.

Also, avoid texting just to say “What’s up?” That question allows you to know what the other person is up to all the time and vice versa. It’s unhealthy. Plus, when the other person doesn’t respond to your text, you start to think something is wrong. The other person could just be busy!

If your partner is an avid texter, setting these boundaries may mean your significant other will now text someone else more than you. If this situation makes you uncomfortable, be honest about your feelings. You and your partner need to have an in-depth talk about who you text and how often you text them.

2. Talk about whether you and your partner are allowed to go through each other’s phones. You could let each other look at pictures or texts whenever you want. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust each other. It means you just don’t have anything to hide. However, this isn’t for everyone. If you opt out, be sure each of you is completely comfortable with what you won’t know about each other’s lives.

Constantly asking to see your phone is a sign of a controlling person. If your partner always hides his or her phone from you, your partner obviously has something to hide. In either case, you and your significant other need to have a talk.

3. If you both have a Facebook or MySpace account, decide whether you want to be listed as “in a relationship.” I recommend not listing a status because everyone will automatically know about your breakup if it occurs. It’s about as bad as announcing your breakup on the morning announcements at school. However, don’t leave your status as single — saying you are single sends the wrong message. Instead, remove your relationship status from your profile. It’s unnecessary.

Also, discuss whether to share passwords. I recommend you don’t, because if you break up, you could be in serious trouble. Instead, I recommend being open with the other person about whom you talk to on the site. Avoid private messaging your partner or others. If you need to have a serious discussion, call.

Also, try not to stalk the other person’s page. Force yourself only to check once per week. Checking more often will make you seem crazy and may even make you feel crazy.

Overall, don’t be afraid to set these boundaries in fear that your partner will not find the boundary-setting attractive. You may be surprised at the appreciation you garner for making your needs clear. Chances are, if you are dating the right person, talking about these issues will bring you closer.

Wes: Rules? Guidelines? Limits? Meaningful dialog? My, how the world has gotten complicated for teenagers — and adults.

But Samantha is right on. As we’ve discussed in the six years since Double Take got it’s first ink, the world of technology usually runs faster than the guardian angel of ethics can fly. Over the years, we’ve given some pretty accurate forecasts of where things were headed. We’ve projected the significance of social networking, the problem of online addiction, the availability of free and abundant pornography, online and text-message bullying and sexting (before we knew it was called that). So the idea of having some specific rules of engagement for these technologies is always a welcome topic for this column.

I love technology. I had a TRS-80 Model III computer in 1983. That model is now on display at the Smithsonian. I had a Mac SE in 1988. I have a Palm Centro. I’m a webmaster. I get 30 texts a day — which I used to think was a lot.

But I’m increasingly worried about the way in which our kids are so completely tuned into these technologies. It’s not so much that they lack real-world friends — I think that may be overrated as a concern. Online friends are real, too, just in a different way.

What I’m concerned about is the expectation wrought by instant messenger and more keenly by the cell phone and text messaging that we have to be constantly connected 24/7. Kids actually wake up routinely to text each other. How unhealthy is that? They text from class. They text while driving. The core element in this problem is nothing new. Kids are by their design creatures of networking. We’ve just found ways to make that happen in a hypermanic, never-ending stream.

I have this fantasy — actually I think its an inevitability given how things are going — that before I die people will have this chip in their brain and they’ll just have to think “Suzie, what are you doing Friday?” and Suzie’s chip will hear that and Suzie will say, “Let’s go to the virtual reality show at the Legends.”

I don’t know if my fantasy nightmare will ever happen, but we’d better have some clearer guidelines of how to interact — along the lines of what Samantha suggests — before we get there. Otherwise, I fear we’re going to be a nation of people on anxiety medication just to cope with the stress of our own creations.

Next week: Why don’t you ever give advice on how to make abstinence work for you?

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.

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