By Sue Hubbard, M.D.
During my tween/teen checkups, I try to fit in a discussion of how much time an adolescent spends on the phone each day, how much time on a computer, and how much time watching TV - a basic compilation of their "on line/on screen" usage.
I also check to see if parents have discussed any rules with their teens surrounding the use of ALL electronics. I find that most adolescents and their parents do have some boundaries on the use of phones and computers, and most parents try to limit their child's constant craving to be "on screen."
I was recently talking with a teenage boy, one of five children. He has great parents who are very attentive to all the distractions related to cell phones and computer use and try to keep his screen use in moderation. During a routine exam, I asked about his cell phone usage, and if he had rules for using the phone. He answered that he didn't have a phone ... anymore. After further "polite probing," he admitted that his parents had taken his phone away because he'd been texting too much.
Many of my young patients seem to be texting all the time. Many parents have told me their child has unlimited texts and several have mentioned bills for their kids with as many as 9,000 texts per month. However, when I asked the boy how many texts he'd recorded in a month, he sheepishly told me 16,000!
I came home to my computer to try and figure out how many texts that was per week, day, hour. (The boy had told me his dad had run a spread sheet that he could provide if I wanted it!) Using a calculator, I figured that if he sent 16,000 texts per month, that's 571 texts per day (assuming a 28-day month). If you figure that teens are in school for 8 hours a day (where I assume they're not supposed to be texting) and they should sleep at least 8 hours, that leaves 8 hours for texting.
Now, I may be off a bit on my count (and who knows if this boy kept his cell phone turned off during school), but that would mean he was sending 71 texts per hour when not in school or asleep - or a whopping one text per minute when he was awake. Wow!
If you're not discussing texting and limiting constant communication with your tweens and teens, I think you should be. This boy even admitted to me that he felt he had gone overboard with texting and really enjoyed talking to his friends. He told his mother during the course of our visit that when he did get the privilege of having a cell phone again, he thought he needed a model that only made phone calls.
"Get me a really old-fashioned one that just rings, because I don't want to be tempted to text!" he said. Bright teen, don't you think?
Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at www.kidsdr.com
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This was printed in the October 21, 2012 - November 3, 2012 Edition