The Family That Texts Together
By Eric Lin, Fri Oct 08 23:00:00 GMT 2004

SMS and mobile email, once the realm of chatty teenagers, has crossed over to their parents' generation, bringing families closer together.

A year ago the "teach ur mum 2 txt" campaign launched in the UK. Initially it was designed to promote communication between children and their parents for safety's sake. By all accounts the campaign was highly successful -- O2 and the non-profit behind the campaign even received an award from the GSM Association this spring in Cannes. Whether or not UK youth and their parents feel safer or more comfortable thanks to text messaging, parents and their children have discovered (or re-discovered) lines of communication. By giving children a quick, silent, subtle way to communicate with parents, texting allows kids to ask for advice or help or even just check in without tipping off their peers.

An anecdote that appeared in Keitai Log a year earlier (see entry on 10.23.03) suggested that text messaging might be used to open lines of communication, allowing at least one girl to communicate more frankly with her parents as well as coordinate family time with them. Now emerging research is showing that in Japan, where texting is also catching on among parents, young students definitely are using text messaging to keep in touch with their families. Beyond just checking in to say they're ok or on their way home, kids are consulting with their parents or relatives in times of stress or trouble (see entry on 10.07.04). Text messaging is actually bringing these families closer together, building trust and respect between teens and their parents.

A few school systems in the US are finally acknowledging the bond that mobile phones create between students and their parents. Many have abandoned efforts to ban cell phones from school grounds, and at least one school system actually reversed its ban this year, recognizing that it was losing a battle both with students and their parents.

The next generation gap that needs to close is between the mobile phone saavy kids and parents and the elderly. While there are a few anecdotes in these stories about grandparents sending text messages, these are far less common than stories of parents who text. Carriers in Japan are making efforts to get phones into the hands of the aging, but that does not mean they will naturally adapt to new forms of communication.

Older generations have less experience with technology, and typically have less fewer reasons to learn how to use it. Although he was quoted out of context, German President Horst Koehler recently commented it was sad that text messaging and email has replaced time together and letters sent to loved ones. Although he said this in an effort to boost ailing stamp sales, the sentiment is not unusual for people of his generation. If grandparents receive enough text and picture messages from family, enhancing and increasing the frequency of communication, then the elderly, too, might use the mobile phone to stay close to loved ones.