Kids Have Zero Texting Etiquette, Huh?

But as much as their incessant calling and chaotic texting frustrate me, it also makes me laugh.

Originally Published: 
Elementary age kids have no idea how to text or how many times to send a message before waiting for ...
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

“Are you okay?” I texted my fourth grader, who is at the end of our block scootering with friends at our local skate park. I like to check in every so often when they are running around the neighborhood, chalk it up to mom anxiety. He doesn’t respond, but I texted a friend who has a view of the park from her office. “Yeah, he is scootering around and having a blast,” she tells me. He came home hungry a half hour later and my text was forgotten. Obviously he’s okay. The next day, at 9 p.m., in his bed, he finally responded before his phone locked down for the evening. “Yes, I am fine. Why?”

“No reason,” I replied with a laugh.

Texting with kids is an actual trip. While I vividly remember my first cell phone and learning to send a message by tapping each number multiple times, my kids don’t really recall a time when they couldn’t send me a message or a string of 45 emojis. We began using Meta’s Messenger Kids to allow them to keep in touch with their friends in early elementary school, enticed by the parental controls and its ability to keep them entertained while I work from home. Texting and spam calling their friends quickly turned into asking for phones. While I never expected to get my children phones so early, living in a walkable community combined with working from home has meant cell phone access has its pros. It also has so many cons.

And I’ve discovered something: Kids, it seems, have no phone etiquette at all. I recently thought I was losing my mind in an Edgar Allen Poe-inspired scene, trying to figure out where a buzzing was coming from in our house. “Tell-Tale Heart?” No, it was an iPad under a couch cushion with 17 missed calls from our 5-year-old neighbor. What did he want? When I finally answered, he wanted nothing at all. He was just bored and calling everyone in his contact list.

My own kids do this, too. I recently took a shower, which meant I wasn’t near my phone for seven whole minutes. I emerged to 10 text alerts, which were all app download requests from my 9-year-old twins. I also had four texts from my 11-year-old about how annoying the twins are, which I felt was a fair assessment at that moment. (He has his moments, too.)

In a world of instant gratification and constant accessibility, I am struggling to teach my kids texting etiquette. A friend and I often dissect — also via text — the digital drama between our fourth grade daughters.

“Trouble in Barbie Land,” we joke as we share screen shots. Mostly, our girls seem to get mad about one another not being constantly accessible. Bestie doesn’t answer your five calls and subsequent 10 texts in a row? “She hates me.” They also cannot read tone in texts and typically assume the worst of one another. Adults struggle with this, so of course kids do, too. We are frequently trying to help them understand nuance and meaning. I read texts out loud to my kids with different inflections to try to help them understand the many ways words could land. I wish someone could do this for me on my own family group text, to be honest.

There’s some great things about texting with kids, though. My oldest is at the age where he can understand memes, so I save my best geography-themed ones for him. Our favorite is the Instagram account Terrible Maps, which is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than sitting building train tracks we connect sitting across the room chuckling as the photos fly back and forth. He doesn’t always want to be tucked in any longer and often stays up later than me during the summer months. I miss our nightly exchange where we battle over who loves one another more. We’ve been doing it since he was a toddler in footie jammies, tucked into the crook of my arm.

I recently texted him as I headed to bed with a quick, “Goodnight, bud. Love you.” I could hear him giggling on speakerphone with some buddies while they played Minecraft. Zombies were coming and they were on the attack. It’s summer break, rules are loose, and I didn’t want to kill the vibe. I didn’t expect a response.

Rather than ignore me, I saw those three bouncing dots followed by a familiar refrain worn into his brain over a decade of bedtimes.

“Love you more, mom.”

“Not possible,” I replied. “I love you to the moon and back.”

“Yuh-huh. I love you to Pluto and back, which is even further than the moon, even though it’s now a dwarf planet.”

I’m not sure exactly how I will teach my kids to stop sending 15 texts in a row or answering FaceTime calls from their friends in public restrooms. There may be no hope, actually, considering all of their peers are like this too. I will take the good moments when I can get them, though — and utilize my “do not disturb” button liberally.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed. is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.

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