Communication tools can be used to enhance our lives or to damage them. The same technology that allows troubled teens to emotionally distance themselves from their families permits missionaries in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah to answer questions from investigators via chat on the Church’s website Mormon.org.
A significant percentage of teens in this generation regularly use text-based chat services, most commonly texting and instant messaging. My advice to parents is to text your teens. Reach out to them where they live. None of this advice is intended in any way to minimize face-to-face and personal communication. But there are situations in which you can reach a loved one via texting or messaging where the alternative would be no communication at all.
Some years ago one of my sons was out on a date a few weeks before his mission. We had discussed a reasonable curfew to help him stay spiritually safe prior to his mission, and he agreed that it would be a blessing to him to be home at a certain time every night. One evening I noticed that it was past our agreed time and he was still out. Keep in mind that he was nineteen years old at the time and I had no delusion of trying to micro-manage this young adult. I just wanted to be a positive support to him as someone who loved him. I texted him the following message on his phone: “It’s after 11:00. ‘Oh be wise. What can I say more?’6 :) Love you. Dad.” That was it. I sent the text and went to bed. Out on his date his phone vibrated in his pocket. He took it out, read the message, smiled, wrapped up his date and got himself home. Had I called him, he most likely wouldn’t have answered it. But by reaching out to him in a way that his generation is comfortable with, I was able to connect with him in a very non-threatening way that was a blessing to everyone involved.
I’m a fan of any method that allows us to communicate more effectively one with another. As simplistic as it may be to simply assert that face-to-face communication is the only true and living form of communication with which the Lord is well pleased, it is simply untrue.
I served for three years as a counselor in a student ward bishopric at BYU and found text messaging to be a great blessing. On many occasions we’d be sitting in bishopric meeting on a Sunday morning when some issue would come up. For example, perhaps we wanted to know whether a certain ward member remembered that they had an appointment with the bishop, or maybe we needed to ask the Relief Society President something. A quick text to the student and a short time later we would get a response that allowed us to continue our meeting without having to interrupt the conversation to place a phone call, perhaps leave a voicemail, then leave again when the return call came through. I’m not saying that messaging should replace every possible form of communication, merely that where it enhances communication and makes our interactions more efficient and effective, it can and should be used. Later, as a Stake Sunday School president, I have regularly used a variety of communication mechanisms to interact with my Stake Presidency, including face-to-face meetings, phone calls, emails, and text messages. Our ministry has been enhanced by the appropriate use of a variety of communication mechanisms.
As parents and grandparents, I believe a similar level of valuable interaction can be achieved by communicating with our children and grandchildren using the technologies that are now part of their daily lives. That means utilizing every method of communication at our disposal including messaging and texting.