What Parents Should Know about Texting Their Teens: 7 Tips for Getting It Right

Teen boy looking at phone

If it feels like your previously communicative kiddo suddenly turned into the silent type when they became a teenager, you’re not alone. It’s common for teens to have a hard time talking to their parents.

Texting is often a good way to get them to open up because it removes a lot of the things that make communicating face-to-face difficult for teens. For example, teens may have a difficult time accurately interpreting adult’s tone and facial expressions. Texting eliminates that barrier. 

But before you fire up your thumbs and start texting your kid, here are some important things you should know about texting teens:

1. Punctuation? What punctuation? 

It turns out teens have a lot of feelings about punctuation in texts. Here are some of the unofficial punctuation rules for texting your teen:

  • Don’t end with a period. Period. While the mid-text period is (fortunately) still allowed, ending a text with a period can cause teens to feel like what you’re saying is serious or worry that you might be mad. It may even come across as rude
  • Ellipses are stressful. When adults end a text with three dots, well … it can leave teens with too much to figure out. They often wonder what you’re leaving unsaid, and it can make them anxious.
  • Don’t overdo it. Teens use punctuation very sparingly when they text. Receiving a text with too much punctuation can be off-putting for them. A combo question-mark-and-exclamation-point seems to be especially upsetting to the younger set. 
  • They love exclamation points! So! Much! Although exclamation points might feel aggressive to the adult eye, to teens they are an unambiguous sign of enthusiasm and positivity! (Except when you’re mad at them. They can tell when an exclamation point means you’re yelling.)

2. Capitalization is out

It’s pretty common for teens to text in all lowercase. (I know!) They may not expect you to match them in eschewing capital letters, but don’t give them a hard time when they do it — it’s just texting culture. 

3. Tread lightly with emoji 

Don’t tell my 74-year-old father, but it is, in fact, possible to overdo it with emoji — especially when you’re communicating with Gen Alpha. Too many can earn you a giant eye roll. And if you do use emoji, please, I beg of you, make sure you know what they mean

4. Go crazy with Bitmoji

For all their skepticism of emoji, it turns out teens are wild about Bitmoji and find it hilarious when their parents use them in texts. 

What is Bitmoji, you ask? It’s an app which allows you to personalize an avatar that looks like you, and you can use it to convey a whole host of things over text. 

See, here’s me writing about my feelings toward all-lowercase texting:

5. Don’t leave them on read. 

Getting “left on read” means sending a text to someone without getting a response back, even though the sender can see the other person received the message. Teens don’t like to be ignored over text, and they get upset when you leave them on read. (Sound familiar?) It helps to let them know realistic timelines for replying. 

6. Memes. Memes. Memes.

Memes are another beloved form of visual communication among teens — one that they’ve taken to a whole new level. They use memes to express a variety of emotions, from humor to fear. Memes can also help teens engage with and talk about difficult subjects in a way that’s less overwhelming. Your teen might groan the first few times you send memes, but they’ll appreciate that you’re trying to speak their language.

7. Don’t be a parrot. 

It can be tempting to try and talk like your teen as a way to connect. But this can backfire. It’s okay to just use words and phrases that are true to how you really communicate. But if you really want to use the same slang you hear from your kids, be sure to confirm what it means first

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