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.

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.

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.

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.

Cyberbullying refers to sending harassing texts, emails or instant messages, as well as posting intimidating or threatening content on websites or blogs.

Naturally, cyberbullying can make a teen feel unsafe and might lead to school absences or other problems. It might even be a contributing factor to teen suicide.

Encourage your teen to talk to you or another trusted adult if he or she receives harassing text messages. You might also suggest rejecting texts from unknown numbers.

On the flip side, make sure your teen understands that it isn't acceptable to spread rumors or bully someone through texting. Remind your teen that any text message he or she sends can be forwarded to anyone else, so it's important to use good judgment with every message.

Sit down with your teen and look through his or her text messages occasionally — or let your teen know that you'll periodically check the phone for content. You might also review phone records to see when and how often your teen is sending and receiving texts.

As your teen gets older and engages with a wider variety of people — some of whom might be interested in inappropriate messages or contact — it becomes even more important to monitor his or her messages.

If your teen isn't willing to follow the rules and expectations you've set — or you're concerned that texting is interfering with your teen's schoolwork or other responsibilities — take action.

The options?

Remove your teen's ability to text or send pictures through his or her phone — or simply take the phone away.

Remind your teen that having a phone is a privilege, not a right. Preventing potentially serious consequences outweighs any anger your teen is likely to express.

Sep. 18, 2012