Text Rage

by Dr. Charles Sophy

Filed Under: Text Etiquette

  • M obile phones and texting are phenomenal modes of communication involving millions of digital bits traveling wirelessly in an instant to help connect people across the world.

  • While there are countless positive benefits for mobile communication, we are now entering an age where the digital and the invisible nature of this communication channel is instigating ugly and tragic physical consequences in the hands of some.

    In March 2010, a 15-year old 9th grade boy at Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, engaged in a heated text conversation with an 8th grade girl. The boy proceeded to track the girl down, viciously beat her and kick her in the head with his steel-toed boots.

    This young girl went into an induced coma, and part of her skull needed to be removed in order to reduce the swelling in her head. An even more unsettling fact is that until the altercation, neither had ever met face-to-face.

  • Emotions With No Physical Context

    Texting is instantaneous, convenient, and fun, allowing us immediate access to others. It also, however, lacks the physical element of face-to-face interactions, which can be especially dangerous for teens who may not yet have developed proper anger management skills and emotional maturity.

  • It is easier for children to send cruel messages, bring up hurtful memories, or engage in bullying behavior because the method of text communication is so immediate, and because they cannot see the reaction of the other person.

  • Technology doesn't cause youth violence; however, if used inappropriately, it does provide an outlet to release pent up emotions. When children can't see someone cry, sulk, or become enraged because of a text message, there is nothing that stops their actions. Without face to face contact, they don't get that sense of remorse or guilt. They may be unaware that they are hurting a person or enraging them to the point of violence. It is easier to disconnect from the victim on the other end of the phone because they do not manifest as an actual person.

    By the same token, receivers of text messages have no physical context for judgment, and it's incredibly easy to misinterpret tone (as it is in email). If adolescents and teens, who tend to be impulsive by nature, cannot confront the other person directly for clarification, it's all too easy for emotions to escalate. In the case of the young girl in Deerfield Beach, Florida, that escalation was tragic beyond measure.

  • Controlling Anger

    It is not uncommon for anger to control an individual, especially a teenager. Many children struggle with the daily stress factors of adolescence and produce unacceptable responses. It is essential for parents to be aware of repressed anger that can rear its head and target innocent victims. Try to notice if your teen seems withdrawn, short-fused, quick to argue, or sad - these can all be indications of anger they are holding within. Watch for warning signs that surface through their emotions.

    Moreover, help your children find suitable outlets for anger and frustration. Let them know that it is normal to experience these feelings, but it is not normal to take it out on others. Even if you are the reason your teen is angry, you can help them realize that they're the only person who can change how they feel. You can equip them to more aptly sort through their emotions and direct them towards a suitable outlet. Good coping skills include relaxation techniques (meditation), writing exercises (journaling/diaries), physical exertion (sports, gym, etc.), and finding humor in frustrating situations.


    Above all, it's critical to create a safe communicative environment for your children when speaking to them about serious issues. Have a free and open discussion, not a lecture. If you approach your child in a positive and supportive manner where they feel their opinions are respected, and they're not afraid of punishment, they will be more receptive to your ideas.

    Ask about their relationships with their friends, their boy/girlfriend, their teachers, their coaches, and other people close to them. Emphasize the importance of respecting people and treating them kindly, regardless of what is going on in your child's personal life. Reiterate that it is never okay to engage in abusive texting. Also, see if your child has been a victim of text rage. If so, let them know it's okay to bring it to your attention so that the matter can be handled appropriately and with sensitivity.

    It is critical to teach our children how to slow down while texting. When texts get emotional or cross the line and become personal and hurtful, our children must understand how to take a step back and diffuse the tension. Immediate reaction or sending vengeful or abusive texts in return can cause things to spin out of control.

    The obvious dilemma is that most adolescents and teens don't possess the emotional maturity to maintain composure and slow down in order to understand the consequences of their actions. We have to be fair and cannot expect them to act like Zen masters, displaying respect and compassion continuously, at the mere age of 15.

    What we can do, however, is give them specific strategies for staying poised and not allowing text rage to escalate. Here are some suggestions you can share with your children:

  • If you're in the middle of a heated text exchange: 1. Stop before sending the next reply 2. Put the phone down 3. Take five deep breaths.

  • Breathe in, breathe out, and after you have calmed down, wait at least 10 minutes and then respond. This simple exercise can diffuse strong emotions, put things in perspective, and help prevent ill-advised reactions.

  • Similarly, before sending an emotional text, simply put the phone away and do another activity for 10 to 30 minutes. Go for a walk, listen to some relaxing music, or clean your room. When you revisit the situation, you’ll find yourself thinking more clearly.

  • Before letting an emotional text conversation get out of hand, ask the person if you can meet face-to-face to calmly resolve the issue. Make sure this is done in an effort to make peace, not to pursue a physical altercation. Usually, if you can actually see a person and their reactions, the direct human contact can overcome the impersonal nature of texting.

  • Never text what you wouldn't say directly to someone's face.

  • Give respect, get respect. All children want the same basic things: love, understanding, and respect. If you send disrespectful texts, you really can't expect to receive anything else in return. To stop your children from sending anything hurtful or cruel, tell them to remember this saying, "Give respect, get respect."

  • In addition to these tips, you can learn more about thinking before texting at LG's "Give It a Ponder" campaign at www.giveitaponder.com

  • Educate and Protect

    Our children love the freedom of mobile phones and texting. The opportunities for connection and expression are limitless. Within this context, however, children must understand that with such a freedom comes much responsibility.

  • We are just starting to see the first cases of text rage, and the stories are heart wrenching. PLEASE let us stop this cycle before it becomes a national epidemic like road rage.

  • If we teach our children to slow down before texting, we could be saving their lives. Also, these coping skills will not only help them become less impulsive and more responsible for texting, but they will enable them to become better individuals in all aspects of life.

    Even as adults, we can be more mindful and take a step back before reacting to an emotional situation. We can eliminate most of the arguments and uncomfortable situations that complicate our relationships by being in the moment and exercising good judgment. Decrease the negative consequences of unrestrained anger and focus, instead, on producing constructive connections.

    When we teach these appropriate behaviors to our children, and exhibit them in our own lives, we make the world better for everyone.

Filed Under: Text Etiquette


Charles Sophy

Dr. Charles SophyAs a psychiatrist specializing in Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Family Practice, Dr. Sophy currently serves as the Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

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