Try to find a teen who isn't texting, and you may find yourself searching in another galaxy.
Millions of today's teenagers are caught up in this quick communication craze that has inspired everything from a new cyberlanguage to funny ads for cell phone companies. But for parents like Liz Oelbaum, shocking cell phone charges are a harsh reality.
"I saw that the bill was over $400, and I pretty much wanted to scream," Oelbaum, the mother of a teenage son, told "Good Morning America." "Right away, I went on the Internet. I downloaded the bill, and I saw all these text messages."
In just one month, her 15-year-old son, Brandon, had racked up over 3,000 text messages at a rate of 10 cents apiece. Even Brandon was stunned by the sky-high bill: "I was so surprised that I'm like 'Whoa, that's too much.'"
Oelbaum refused to pay the exorbitant charges.
"I said to him, 'You have to be more responsible. You're paying for the bill because it's your fault. You know that you should know better,'" she said.
Shorthand to KPC
And it's not just how much they're texting that baffles parents: It's the language they're using.
Text speech is designed to be quick and easy. Some common abbreviations -- think OMG (oh my God) and LOL (laughing out loud) -- are now part of our vernacular. But other codes, like PAW (parents are watching) and LMIRL (let's meet in real life) are a way to KPC (keep parent clueless) -- and add to texting's appeal.
Check out more codes in the texting dictionary below.
LOL = Laughing Out Loud
TTYL = Talk to You Later
BRB = Be Right Back
OMG = Oh My Goodness
WTF = What The F***
B2W = Back to Work
L8R = Later
PIR = Parents In Room
OTB = Off to Bed
^5 = High Five
CU = See You
Beyond TextingEven savvy families who pay a monthly fee for text messaging are finding that there are other features that can blow a monthly budget.
Five months after the first incident, Oelbaum received a bill with another whopping 2,500 text messages. It turned out that Brandon's instant messenger service on his computer was linked to his phone, a feature that he didn't realize would affect the bill. Mom got tough: With one call to her carrier, she blocked access to the Internet, text messages and the downloading of songs.
"When you get the phone, they don't tell you that it's extra for text messaging," Oelbaum said. "They don't tell you the Internet is extra. They don't tell you anything like that. If you don't do your homework, and if you're not a responsible parent, you're going to fall into a trap."
Ways to Save
Know your teen's needs. Before purchasing a cell phone plan, you should have an idea of how much your teen will actually be using text messaging. Don't assume that you know -- the volume of messages they are sending may surprise you.
Sit down and talk with your teen about how they want to use their phone. They may rather have fewer on-air minutes and more texting privileges. Or they may want to be able to send photos or download music, so know what those extra features will run you a month.
Beware of hidden fees that can jack up the bill, and know exactly how your plan works. For example, find out exactly what "nighttime minutes" means. Don't assume that discounted rates kick in right after sunset.; it could be 8 or 9 p.m. Talk to your carrier and know what you're getting into.
Recognize the Lingo
Teens use a whole slang of letter, numbers and acronyms when texting, and if you feel left in the dust, you aren't alone. In fact, "leet speak, " an "elite" computer code that used to be the domain of computer geeks, is finding its way into the mainstream.
In leet speak (1337 5p33k), numbers take the place of some letters, words are misspelled intentionally and acronyms rule. For example, look at this sentence: "W4nt 2 go 2 the m411 t0d4y?" Can you translate it? It actually morphs into "Want to go to the mall today?"
Even if you don't speak fluent leet, you can still become knowledgeable about texting. Some parents have a knee-jerk reaction that texting is for kids and would be more time consuming than placing a call.
Research suggests, however, that kids are more likely to respond to a text from mom or dad than a phone call, because it's more discreet. No one has to know your mom is calling again. And you don't have to hear the attitude in your teen's voice when he or she replies!