Teen texting: Help your teen avoid the risks

Concerned about teen texting? To prevent problems, monitor your teen's texting habits. Also set — and enforce — appropriate limits. By Mayo Clinic Staff

For many teens, text messaging has become an essential way to communicate. A lack of maturity can get your teen into trouble when texting, though.

Help your teen understand — and avoid — the risks associated with texting.

Don't allow texting while driving

Texting while driving is unsafe under any circumstances. In fact, some research suggests that texting while driving is more than 20 times as dangerous as driving alone.

Scarier yet, texting might be an even greater threat for teen drivers than for older drivers, since younger drivers are less likely to stop texting when faced with a difficult driving situation.

Start by talking to your teen about the consequences of texting while driving, such as potentially serious — or even deadly — accidents. Talking isn't enough, though.

Set clear rules and consequences about texting and driving. Explain that texting while driving isn't allowed under any circumstances — and that driving and phone privileges will be revoked if your teen texts while driving.

Remind your teen that texting while driving is illegal in many states.

To help your teen resist temptation while driving, you might suggest storing the phone out of easy reach in the car — such as in the glove compartment or tucked away in a purse or bag. Also consider apps or other safety features that disable texting while driving.

Keep texting from interfering with sleep

Texting after turning out the lights or going to bed can interfere with a good night's sleep — especially if the messages are stressful or emotional. This can lead to issues such as lost sleep, difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.

Work with your teen to establish reasonable hours for texting — such as no texting after 10 p.m. on school nights. To enforce the rule, you might keep your teen's phone out of his or her room at night.

Be honest about sexting

Sexting refers to sending a text message with sexually explicit content or a sexually explicit picture, including naked pictures or pictures of people kissing or engaging in other sexual acts.

Even if sexting seems to be the norm among your teen's peer group, explain the emotional consequences of sexting to your teen. Sexting can be uncomfortable for the sender — especially if he or she is pressured into it — as well as the receiver.

The possible long-term impact of sexting matters, too. A picture or message meant for one person can be forwarded to an entire contact list at any time — and once it's in circulation, there's no way to control it. A photo or message could resurface years later under other circumstances, possibly causing great embarrassment or even problems with work or school.

Although laws and degree of enforcement might vary from state to state, make sure your teen understands that the possession of sexually explicit images of a minor is considered a crime. The consequences could be serious, including a police record, suspension from school or legal action.

Bottom line: If you wouldn't be comfortable sharing the photo or message with the entire world, don't send it.

Sept. 18, 2012 See more In-depth