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“My friends understand me, but my mom and I fight because we miscommunicate when we text.”

Recently, in a counseling session, my client and her daughter were discussing relationship conflicts that seem to be triggered by texting each other. Eventually, the teenage daughter blurted out. “She texts me about things I can’t do anything about, like clean my room or taking out the trash. I’m at school, why is she texting me about that?”

According to Wikipedia, the average American teen receives over 3,300 texts per month. In 2009,  it was estimated that 2.5 billion text messages are sent every day in the United States. What exactly are people texting about?

According to Forbes‘ The Psychology of Texting, by Alice G. Walton, “People use texts for a variety of purposes. What’s fascinating is what people are willing to say in texts that they would never say in person. Somehow it’s OK to be a little more revealing, forthright, and feisty than it is when you’re talking face to face. And this honesty via text works both to our detriment and betterment. ”

The female teenager in my office explained to me. “My mother doesn’t get it when I’m kidding and doesn’t know when she is annoying me.”

After a couple of sessions, the teenager and her mother decided to only text back and forth short messages about itinerary or short salutations of good luck or thanks. When other topics arose, she and her mother agreed to set up an appointment to talk in person.

Texting allows a distance between us and our textees. It gives us the courage to say things more impulsively and spontaneously than we would in person. We are freer to express what is happening, how we are feeling, and what we want at that moment. It can serve a good purpose, but for those who already have trouble communicating, this can cause further misunderstanding and conflict, especially when used across generations.

A generational communication gap seems to be inherent in texting. If there is, should texting be limited to just quick check-ins rather than full conversations like in the case of my clients?

Cracking the Emoticon Code

Texters of the boomer generation don’t use emoticons as frequently as the younger generations. Older people seem to  equate emoticons with actual emotions, such as a wink means you are actually flirting whereas a wink to a younger texter could be only  emphasizing the text’s content.  Therefore, meaning attached to a text can be misinterpreted and lead to misconceptions and unintended emotional messages.

In the realm of psychology, many young adults, ages 18-26, particularly enjoy texting and emailing as a form of communication with their therapist. It is real time: current reactions to current situations. The information is available to review when they come into my office for a visit. Instead of forgetting something important, we can recapture the words, emotion, and situation, which is helpful. I have integrated texting and emailing into my psychology practice, and it has been used with many of my young adult clients very successfully.

Overall, texting can be and is used by many ages for a wealth of reasons, including therapy. Again, according to Forbes‘ The Psychology of Texting, Dr. Alan Manevitz, at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center shares that texting can be very positive for psychology and for clients of all ages. “Texts also allow patients to be more comfortable opening up about their experiences than they tend to be in person. They’re more willing to reveal the thoughts they’ve had,” says Manevitz, “Or the choices they’ve made, which is particularly true for teens who are experimenting with new activities and substances that they might be ashamed to reveal on the couch.”

That said, texting is just one form of communication and like anything can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the intent and context used. For example, if texting across generations results in misunderstanding and conflicts, stop texting about important topics. Instead, make an appointment to sit down and talk to each other or talk on the phone without distractions.

The teenager and her mother now limit their texting to certain topics and they notice how much more often they talk in person. As a result their relationship has improved because they have less conflicts and misunderstandings. Being present, at times, allows the full expression of the words to be more fully understood. Relationships are important. Choose your communication style carefully.

We offer a FREE 15 minute session to new clients. Contact Us to schedule it today. These sessions are only available via phone, email, text and Skype.

*Copyright Jean Pollack

Photo credit: Flickr