Teenager's text-messaging is pushing dad's buttons

January 08, 2007|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

In the best of times, having a conversation with the 15-year-old who lives in my house was a lot of work.

Our dialogues, such as they were, tended to go like this:

Me: "How was school?"

Him: "Fine."

Me: "How'd you do on the English test?"

Him: "Good."

Me: "How was basketball practice?"

Him: "Good."

Yeah, the kid didn't give you much. My wife and I always thought he'd make a great spy.

But now I look back on some of those conversations and think: Boy, he was really chatty then, wasn't he?

Because now we can't get him to stop text-messaging on his cell phone long enough to say even that much.

Yep, like millions of other kids in this country -- a recent study said 64 percent of teens who have cell phones regularly text-message -- the boy has a heavy text-messaging habit.

He text-messages when he's watching TV. He text-messages when he's sitting at the computer. He text-messages when he's doing his homework.

And when he's not text-messaging, he's checking to see if any of his friends sent him a text-message.

Which they do -- at all hours of the day and night. He's even gotten messages at 2 in the morning.

What kind of a message would a 15-year-old send at that hour? My pillow feels lumpy?

Me, I worry about what all this text-messaging is doing to our kids and their, ahem, conversational skills.

OK, we know they probably don't talk as much with their parents when they do all this text-messaging.

But are they even talking to each other anymore?

Why actually dial your snazzy cell phone and talk to a friend when you can hunch over the thing and stab at the little buttons with your thumbs and send a quick message, bathed in the hypnotic glow of the little blue screen?

The other thing is, this text-messaging stuff can get pricey, if you don't keep an eye on it.

The behemoth wireless network that we belong to -- motto: We Never Stop Working You Over -- charges 10 cents to send or receive text-messages.

So if a kid's getting dozens of text-messages every day from his friends, it'll cost you an arm and a leg.

Unless -- ta-daaa! -- you sign up for the special text-messaging plan the behemoth wireless network offers.

So now we're on some sort of Family Gouge Plan where we pay a few bucks extra each month and the kid can send and receive all the text-messages he wants.

Great.

I'm sure this is furthering his advancement as a fine young citizen.

But recently we laid down a couple of rules for the boy, just to be mean.

Rule No. 1: No text-messaging at the dinner table. You have to -- and I know this is the worst form of torture -- actually engage in a conversation with other family members.

Rule No. 2: No text-messaging when you're riding in the car with your mom and dad, either. Same thing: You have to talk.

Pretend you enjoy our company.

At first, the boy was twitching like a junkie who needs a fix every time he sat down to dinner or got in the car.

He kept fingering the cell phone in his pocket, dying to pull it out and blast off a few messages, just to feel like he was back in the game.

But lately he's starting to come around and not be so text-message-needy.

In fact, we're even back to having some of the same scintillating conversations we used to have.

We had a dandy one the other day when I picked him up from a basketball team party.

Me: "How was the party?"

Him: "Fine."

Me: "What did you guys do?"

Him: "Hung out."

Me: "Did you have anything to eat?"

Him: "Pizza."

Yeah, the boy's a regular chatterbox again.

Sometimes you just wish he'd give it a rest.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com.

To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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