After the era of Short Message Service (SMS), instant messaging (IM) has taken over the helm and looks set to stay. Just a couple of decades back, the concept of IM seemed possible only in sci-fi films. What used to be the stuff of dreams is now a ubiquitous reality easily available for everyone. It is not difficult to understand the appeal instant messaging holds to youths today.

The less tech-savvy adults, who are struggling to grasp the concept of IM, may not understand the youths’ ease of using them to communicate in place of face-to-face interactions. But the first step to understanding your teenager is to understand why youths use it. And by doing so, parents will soon be speaking the lingo their youth does. First, most IM platforms are free and available on either the computer or mobile, and at times both. IM platforms include Skype, Facebook Chat, Whatsapp, and the list goes on. As long as the user has an internet connection, he or she is able to start a real-time conversation with his or her friends and acquaintances. The user will be able to note the availability of their contacts for interaction, and initiate the creation of an IM group – where a group of users are able to chat in real-time, interact separately with as many people as they like and converse with anyone no matter their location in the world.

IM also enables youths to multi-task in several projects and discussions, allowing them to save on time and costs, a huge plus point which face-to-face interactions lack. IM is a cost-effective method for youths to manage the multitudinous conversations they hold with friends from all around the world. Furthermore, IM gives youths the platform to discuss topics they prefer not to do in person, such as potentially awkward or embarrassing ones like asking someone out for a date, or ending a relationship. The pervalence and intensity of IM usage in teenagers make it important for parents to discuss with their kids about being prudent and making good choices. While it is not necessary to forbid or curb the use of IM in most cases, parents should view them as opportunities to educate their youths about the proper allocation of responsibilities, cultivating positive study habits, awareness of online dangers, and healthy relationship advice.

For information on Focus on the Family’s Parenting with Confidence workshop for parents of 13-19 year-olds, visit www.family.org.sg.