Young Men Acting As Children Perplex Women

Man_TextingHave you even been in a room in which a young man keeps answering text after text? Then he looks up and says, “She won’t leave me alone.”

In the world of two sides to every story, she might be trying to set the record straight, while he is spewing misinformation. Men have not learned the unwritten rules of texting according to author Jeff Wilser, writing about men, texting, and conflict for New York magazine.  And after talking with a Brown University pediatrician and reviewing a North Carolina University study of 395 college students, some interesting thoughts emerge regarding the similarity between tantrum-throwing texters and screaming children.

Angry texting can be a way to create emotional distance. Wilser has identified 10 types of texting men including the cliff-hanger, the passive aggressive, the vanisher, and the sexter (who might also be known as the creep). He says:

“Men prefer to text. (Phone is too invasive, e-mail is too taxing, IM is too 2003.) Part of the problem is structural. Texting is an awkward medium, stripped of the nuance of eye contact, body language, or even written elaboration; there’s a fine fuzzy between friendly banter and cutting insult. Women have solved this.” (Wilser, 2013)

women often try to mitigate an abrupt or angry text with smiling faces, sad faces, or kisses.  Also, women tend to prefer talking to texting.  As a long-time advocate of creating serenity spaces for men and women to try to solve a problem face to face, those who revert to texting do so from a hiding place

The North Carolina study

The North Carolina study sampled 395 participants, most of whom were 19 years of age. The goal was to estimate “texting in communication compared to other channels (e.g., face-to-face, phone, and etc.), in addition to using the traditional, absolute measure of texting usage (i.e., the number of texts sent to partners).” (Shanhong, 2014)

They found that couples who spent a significant amount of time texting were not as satisfied with their relationship as other couples. Texting appeared to replace friendlier forms of communication.

Texting and babies’ tantrums, relationship control

From texting tantrums to children throwing a supermarket tantrum there may be little difference. Last year I interviewed Jane Dennison, MD, a member of the Brown University clinical faculty about children’s tantrums.

When a child wants something in a store or market — screaming is an attempt to control the parent. When men want to avoid a face-to-face conflict, they send angry tests even when they should call.  In hiding behind a smart phone they create their own one-sided story line.

If men are the other half in a friendship or romantic relationship, such a scenario can spell trouble. Researchers have found that couples have 1 to 3 disagreements in one week alone. Two people in a not-so-happy relationship might be arguing daily. (Guerrero, 2001). So who really loses out?

The real problem with angry texting is that one person controls the self-focused argument. When couples argue face-to-face there is the opportunity to say, “What are you talking about? You’ve got this all wrong.” But men – who might be champions in conflict resolution in the workplace – will often avoid any kind of conflict at home.

A pediatrician comments: From babies to young 30s

The advice that follows is from Dr. Dennison for children at various ages – even into the 20s and, as some women have learned, into their 30s as well.

Dr. Dennison says that “semi-verbal children have an overwhelming ‘need’ feeling,” adding, “when they want something, they want it now. What they are trying to do is to change adult behavior.” What happens next is a familiar scene: The child throws a tantrum. “What a parent should not do is to give into a child’s tantrum for a candy bar,” she said suggesting that the parent walk out of the store with the child.

Tantrums begin to taper as children’s verbal skills develop. However, during the teen years and up to the early 20s, behavior becomes a bit more aggressive. “They start slamming doors, hitting doors or walls and stomping feet,” Dennison said. “Hopefully parents have been through enough years of rational parenting to say, ‘I understand you’re angry at everything today,’ and then changing the subject, ‘Do you want something for dinner?’ It’s important for a parent to hit the mid-zone.'”

The answer to handling texting tantrums

Today we live in a text message society. When a teen cannot have a rational conversation with a parent, he or she might turn to texting. A parent might even say, “Write me what you are feeling and I’ll read it.” Dennison pointed out that “kids today send long, multiple texts. It is their way of unloading.”

“By 24, most have settled down because they have learned that tantrums are not a useful social technique,” Dennison said. “However, if tantrums continue — kicking or slamming doors, hitting fists against a wall — that is the transition to requiring anger management.”

In thinking about texting in general, it does not take research to determine how to handle the tantrum-throwing texter — whether a man or a woman. If the information is simply a stream of misinformation, stop answering the texts.  And if these unwanted texts continue, remind the texter of the fine line between continued angry texting and harassing.