Like most kids old enough to know what a cell phone is, my two boys -- ages 11 and 9 -- want one. That's not happening yet. However, they recently got iPods, mainly to play their music and a few games, and very quickly they discovered a free app called Text Plus. That allows them to send text messages from places with wireless networks.
They love doing it, especially with the handful of friends who also have iPods or cell phones but also with me and their dad. While I obviously don't want them spending too much time texting, I think it's fun too. As Tommy and Sammy enter the less parent-centered phase of childhood, anything that helps me keep in touch with them is fine by me.
But texting with preteen boys is pretty, shall we say, interesting. It tends to follow the stereotypical mom-teenage-son conversation path where the mom asks lots of questions and talks up a storm while the son utters one-word answers and grunts in response.
Here's what I've learned from talking to my kids and reading various parenting books and articles: Don't take it personally.
My boys are not being rude or cold, and they're not mad at me. Whether because they're boys or preteens, they often don't need to say a whole lot to feel like they're having a good conversation. So -- even as I work on teaching my sons good communication skills and how to express their emotions when they need to -- I am laughing at our exchanges instead.
There are the Mom-emoting, kid-so-not-emoting conversations:
Me (just before my 11-year-old left for a week of summer camp): "I love you so much, Tommy. What are you most excited about when you go to camp? I will miss you this week but I'm excited for you and hope you will have lots of fun. We will go to Uno's for dinner after we pick you up on Friday."
Or the Mom-encouraging, kid-thrilled-about-encouragement conversations:
Me (after seeing my 9-year-old's backyard baseball game): "I liked watching you play baseball out the window. It's cool how much you like to play. I hope you'll always have fun with sports."
How about the Mom-scheduling-plus-encouragement, kid-again-thrilled moments:
Me: "Hi Sammy. I'm glad you got to do the sleepover with Aidan and that your dentist appointment went well. You can stay at Zack's house for a little bit, but please walk home by 5pm for baseball practice. Hope you like the new team, go 'Canes!"
Me: "Have a great baseball practice! I'm driving to Uncle Bill's house now and will see you there later. Your cousins will be very happy to see you and play with you! Maybe you can teach Abby some new words again."
I don't like boy-versus-girl stereotypes, because every kid is different -- although speaking from my experience alone, there certainly are generalizations to be made about how much girls talk (more) and what they talk about (deeper stuff than the usual sports/SpongeBob conversations my boys tend to have). However, I was curious about how mothers of girls have fared in the texting realm, so I asked a friend with a 12-year-old daughter if her situation was similar to mine. The answer: sometimes yes, but sometimes no. Take this text from her daughter (who has her own cell phone) while the girl was at a sleepover:
Mom: Hi, I hope your sleepover is going well. What have you been doing? Love you!
Daughter: It's great, we r watching Olympics. We ate spaghetti. We might stay up late for the end of gymnastics. Luv u too."
Not exactly great prose, but contrast it to my exchange with my 11-year-old, who I messaged through his friend's dad at a recent sleepover:
Me: Hi Tommy, hope you're having fun. What are you guys up to? You can call us before bedtime if you want, but no need. Goodnight! (I'm not supposed to say "I love you" in texts that his friend might see.)
What's funny is how differently my sons view our exchanges. "It's so fun texting with you, Mommy!" Sammy told me recently. "Why haven't you texted me back?" Maybe because I didn't think his most recent message to me -- "Gggggfgbvgixbvvviccf" -- required a response.
Meanwhile Tommy tells me I'm one of his favorite people to text with, although he still likes actual conversations more (GOOD!). And recently, I got the best text of all time from him: an "I love u, Mom!" sent out of nowhere.
Hey wait, that's FOUR words!