Teenagers now text so much that the cell phone text has replaced face-to-face conversations as the primary way they communicate with friends. Usually it's just the standard teenage conversation, smattered with commentary about events around them and pop culture, or a way of having their friends along with them through family events that bore them—like dinner.
But sometimes it swerves into darker territory. About 15% of teenagers admitted to having received a "sexting" message from someone they knew—either text content that was sexually suggestive, or a nude or suggestive photo in a multimedia text message, according to a study by the Pew Research Foundation's Internet & American Life Project published earlier this year.
That may alarm parents—and it probably should. The problem is that teens send and receive so many text messages, screening all of the content that passes through their phone is next to impossible. The average teenage girl between 14 and 17 years old sends an average of 100 text messages a day—3000 a month.
Most parents make some attempt to check the content of their teens' phones, or regulate how much and when they can text. But when you're dealing with an evasive teenager, that can be difficult—especially if they're ahead of you in technology savviness. If your teenager is really up to no good, they're likely destroying the evidence before you can even see it.
For example, a new application for cell phones called TigerText, now available for the iPhone and Google Android phones, automatically deletes text messages within an amount of time set by the sender so they can't be read later by phone snoopers. TigerText is allegedly named after the big cat, because of how difficult it is to track, and not because of Tiger Woods' cautionary texting tale.
The only way to get a handle on what their texting habits are may be to look over your cell phone bill and see where all the Short Message Service texts are going to, and match them up with the numbers in your teen's address book. You can also randomly spot-check their phone so they'll never know exactly when you're going to look at it.
There are ways of monitoring your teen's text messages and other phone activity. Apps such as MyMobileWatchdog (an application that works with Windows Mobile and Blackberry cell phones) and Mobile Spy offer the truly paranoid parent ways to completely lock down a child's phone and monitor text messages and images sent.
Personally, I can't deal with having that much visibility into what my teenage sons are up to on their cell phones—it's bad enough reading their conversation threads with friends in Facebook. But I'm more laissez-faire than some parents I know—I count on a combination of mutual trust and passive-aggressiveness to keep my sons out of trouble.
How do you deal with your teen's texting? And do you feel like monitoring your kids' electronic conversations is effective? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, and add to the conversation.