If you have noticed the apparent omnipresence of cell
phones, as most of us surely have, it likely won't surprise
you that about 86% of the world's roughly seven billion
people have access to a mobile phone, or that 80% of
cell phone owners use their devices to send and receive
text messages. You may also be unsurprised to learn
that the vast majority of texts are sent by teenagers
under eighteen, and that the average teen from this
group sends over 3,300 texts each month. The story that
these numbers tell is hardly something we don't know:
while Generation X grew up with face-to-face communication
and calls from the landline, the social sphere of today's
youth exists on LCD screens.
Millennials have acquired a reputation as narcissistic,
entitled, lazy, and disloyal, much of which is attributed
to their incessant use of technology such as texting;
Time Magazine has branded them the "Me Me Me Generation."
However, this reputation is not entirely deserved, nor
is the negative stigma surrounding the widespread use
of devices for purposes like texting. The benefits of
the ease and accessibility of text messaging are numerous.
While many fear that texting erodes teenage literacy,
recent studies have shown that sending and receiving
text messages in the vernacular of the texting world
actually improves teens' language skills by encouraging
them to interact with written language. Additionally,
the use of such texting language does not correlate
with an increased number of spelling errors in formal
writing. While it is possible that spell check has something
to do with this finding, we must also ask ourselves
if, in a society that depends on the Internet, spell
checkers, and AutoCorrect, strong spelling skills are
really essential anymore.
Text messaging also provides social benefits to teenagers.
Teens who feel socially awkward, as so many do at that
age, may enjoy texting because it allows them a direct,
succinct, and informal means of communication that forgoes
the formalities of small talk and the more complicated
nature of socializing in large groups. This benefit
of texting may encourage many teenagers to be more social,
which is especially healthy for shy teens. Additionally,
fast-paced conversation through texting and instant
messaging have been shown to improve teenagers' moods
by giving them an outlet for their emotions and practically
constant access to friends.
Of course, the argument that text messaging is ruining
our youth is not shattered by the pros of texting; while
its advantages are certain, its downfalls remain equally
present. Though texting has not been found to increase
the number of misspellings in teens' academic writing,
studies have shown that it increases the incidence of
common grammar errors and colloquialisms in teenagers'
formal writing; by translating casual speech into writing
so often through texting, many teenagers have grown
accustomed to writing the way they speak.
The social benefits of text messaging for teenagers
are also downplayed by texting's social drawbacks. Because
so many teens rely on texting as a major or even primary
means of communication, many teenagers become accustomed
to being constantly on their phones and seeing their
friends in the same state. By becoming used to this
behavior, many teenagers begin to feel that they must
be texting or socially engaged at all times, costing
them the ability to perform simple tasks like riding
the subway or enjoying lunch alone without tapping the
screens of their phones all the while. This loss of
solitude and time for idleness may represent the widespread
acquisition of an inability to be alone and a widespread
failure to take idle time as an opportunity to think.
The debate over whether texting is a boon or a bane
to teenagers is far from being settled, if it ever can
be. What we do know is that texting has a number of
advantages and problems attached to it, many of which
overlap in affecting the same area or skill set. It
seems, at least for now, that this is an issue up to
each person to decide for themselves and to address
with their kids as they feel is most appropriate.
About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage,
Inc. a software company for communication software solutions.