“A Gift with Strings Attached”: Parents’ Experiences of Teenagers’ Mobile Phone Text Messaging

Epiphanie Mukasano1, Catherina J. Schenck*, 1, Hester M van der Merwe2, 3
1 Department of Social Work, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
2 Department of Further Education, University of South Africa, South Africa
3 Department of Educational Leadership and Management, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

© 2015 Mukasano et al

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distributin, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Social Work, Private Bag x17 Bellville University of the Western Cape, South Africa; Tel: 27(21) 9592011; E-mail:


While the rapid adoption of mobile technology became global, the rate at which young people adopted it was even bigger. Most studies focussed on the experiences of the teenagers. In this study the aim of the study was to explore parents’ experiences of their teenagers’ text messages. A qualitative exploratory research design was adopted. The population was parents/guardians (males and females) of teenagers (boys and girls) attending high schools in Cape Town South Africa. Available and snowball sampling were used. All participants were recruited in the Southern Suburbs and Cape Flats of the Cape Metropolitan Area. In total 11 parents were interviewed using an interview guideline. The interviews were transcribed, independently coded and thematically analysed. The results show that mobile phones are no ordinary gifts. They are given with strings attached. Once in teenagers’ hands, the devices serve both communication and monitoring purposes. It comes with a set of given or negotiated rules and new expectations. The study also emphasises the importance of a trusting relationship with teenagers, respecting their privacy, and the disengagement process from their parents. The importance of positive relationships and open communication as well as negotiated rules in the management of the mobile phone is recommended.

Keywords: Mobile phone, text messaging, texting, teenagers, parents, parenting.