- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

The sound of Betsy’s cell phone beeping from the family room signals not only the arrival of another text message from one of her pals, but also the reality that a determined teenager most certainly will find a way of getting around the rules.

Secretly, I confess I’m impressed.

Betsy is the most resourceful of our four children — the one I can count on to find obscure items in the grocery store such as pickled green beans or Greek black olives (not Kalamata).

So it should come as no surprise to me that our 15-year-old sophomore — known in childhood as “Little Miss Independent” — has developed a busy social life with the help of our cell-phone carrier’s unlimited text- messaging feature.

First, some context: Our home, while equipped with one desktop computer and two laptops (one for mom, one for dad), apparently is unusual because it remains a place where instant messaging is not available or allowed.

Somehow, we are raising two teenage daughters, one middle school son and a fourth-grade girl without benefit of IM.

OMG. (In cyber-speak: Oh my God.)

Rather than send instant messages, our children must make phone calls and have actual conversations when they choose to communicate with their friends. (The older three have e-mail addresses and could send e-mail messages, but “nobody uses e-mail,” so they don’t.)

Without instant messaging, we have discovered, an adolescent’s social life, especially a girl’s, is likely to be — how to put this? — less robust than it otherwise might be.

We realize this is a bit of a hardship, but it has its upsides. For example, if you don’t engage in instant messaging, you may miss a party or two, but you’ll also miss the temptation to send instant messages about the mustache on the upper lip of a female teacher or the body odor of the person at the next locker.

This means it’s impossible for you to be called to the principal’s office when your unkind and insensitive messages mysteriously are printed out and taped to a chalkboard or to the locker of the smelly girl (with your screen name identifying you as the meanie who sent them).

Not to mention, if statistics are any indication of the hours spent by teens engaging in instant messaging, I can’t fathom how my children would have time for really important things, such as making their beds, running the vacuum cleaner or reading books.

But maybe TJM (That’s just me).

Despite our house rule, the issue of instant messaging sometimes comes up, so my husband and I occasionally have revisited its relative merits as a form of communication, but we can’t think of enough reasons to invite this aggravation into our home.

In short, we think “IMing,” as an activity of daily living for young people, is a CWOT (complete waste of time). But as I said, Betsy is nothing if not resourceful, and to be fair, we don’t have a rule against text messages.

In fact, the reason we have unlimited text messaging on our cell phones is so I can send an unlimited number of text messages to my teenage daughters, especially when they’re someplace where it’s hard to hear the phone ringing.

This way, when they’re at a basketball game or in the mall, I can ask “Are you on your way home?” (I suppose I could make it easier on myself and text “R U OYWH,” but for a writer, old habits, such as using real words, die hard).

Like millions of teenagers across America, Betsy has discovered that “texting” — a new verb for the techno-generation — is a lot like instant messaging and is more convenient in some ways because you can keep your cell phone with you all the time (whereas it’s inconvenient to walk around with your family’s desktop computer in your pocket).

This is how Betsy is upholding the letter of the law against instant messaging in our home but seems to be violating its spirit just a bit.

Still, I’m not too concerned. For one thing, her messages are captured on her phone, and though the phone is available for her use, it really belongs to me, not to her. (“Her phone” would be one for which she pays.)

Also, while paying the cell phone bill, I have access to a complete list of all the numbers sending and receiving text messages to and from Betsy’s phone. In this way, I can easily keep track of the activity on her line.

But the biggest reason I’m not too concerned is that I’m well aware that while Betsy and her buddy use the text feature to make plans about going to movies or meeting at a friend’s house, they’re more often making plans to go running or meet at the library.

One night, they even spent hours sending text messages while working together — remotely — on the honors chemistry study guide. Their fingers raced on the miniature keyboards of their cell phones while science questions flew through cyberspace like homing pigeons with notes tied around their necks.

Personally, all that typing on a phone pad would be 2MFM (too much for me).

If the text messaging gets out of hand, I can easily change our “unlimited” text service to “Sorry, kid, you had your chance.”

BTA (but then again), for now, the message I’m sending is KUTGW (keep up the good work) — just don’t KPC (keep parents clueless).

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan — One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary bethhicks.com) or send e-mail to [email protected]

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