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Is Text Messaging Ruining Our Youth?

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. http://www.notepage.net

 

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