Could too much texting be harmful to your teen? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Could too much texting be harmful to your teen?

(Source: WAFF Staff) (Source: WAFF Staff)

A judge is expected to announce his verdict in the case of a Massachusetts woman accused of sending her boyfriend dozens of text messages urging him to kill himself in 2014, while they were both teenagers.

Research shows 60 percent of teens say texting is their primary source of communication. But how does that impact their emotional health and ability to express their feelings?

That raises questions and concerns for parents about how much their teen is texting and how and when they should monitor it? We asked local experts about the pros and cons of texting as primary communication. 

“Texting is much different than sitting with someone and having a face to face conversation. There are no non-verbals,” said Jessica Kalathas, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Crisis Services of North Alabama.

"There are things you may feel safer saying behind the safety of a screen, versus what you might say to someone face to face, and it does complicate things a great deal because you might interpret what someone said in a negative way and that might not be how they meant it,” said Kalathas.

She says sometimes teens don’t realize the seriousness of topics while talking through text.

“Especially considering young people are still developing, and often times they're very emotional, and a lot of times unable to balance those emotions regarding interactions through text messages,” said Kalathas.

Kalathas says that texting to communicate may not always be a bad thing, especially with teens who might have a tough time talking about difficult topics with their parents or each other.

“Say someone is feeling suicidal and they're not able to convey the way they're feeling face-to-face. It's a two-way street, someone may not be able to be as effective helping behind a screen, but someone may not be able to convey their feelings if they are face to face,” said Kalathas.

“I think that if someone does express these thoughts that they want to die or feeling so hopeless or overwhelmed, then that could prompt a face-to-face conversation if that person is comfortable, and then that would lead, hopefully, to a really genuine and helpful interaction.”

Kalathas says parents need to evaluate and develop an effective style of communication with their children to make sure important messages are getting across, and that their children feel comfortable approaching them to talk about tough topics.

“We always want to get to a place where you can communicate with somebody in a way that the both of you feel heard and understood,”
said Kalathas.

“Sometimes, if it is via text, you really be checking for clarification, 'Did that make sense?' 'Did that come across the way I meant it to?'”

You may think they’re trivial, but Kalathas says emojis can offer more insight than a simple text statement.

“Emoji’s, they're there to help us. They're there to help us understand what we're feeling,” said Kalathas.

“You can text 'I'm fine' with a frowny face and that means one thing, or you can text, 'I'm fine' with a smiley face and that means another thing. So those emoji’s may be silly to some people, or they can be really helpful.”

For parents, there's no simple solution for how much you monitor your teen's texting.

Experts say you can monitor it with however much discretion you feel comfortable with, but just know that sometimes instead of talking face-to-face right away, texting may be a good way to start a difficult conversation.

If you or someone you know is showing suicidal signs, the Crisis Services of North Alabama Office has a 24-hour HELPline (256-716-1000). 

Crisis services are also in the process of being text enabled, which means you can text their helpline instead of calling at any time.

They’re hoping to have that service in place by December.

For now, you can use if you’re experiencing any suicidal thoughts and need someone to talk to.

Crisis Services of North Alabama is funded by the Huntsville Hospital Foundation.  

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