According to Pew Research, 80 percent of teens share their phone numbers as a primary contact method with friends, but actual phone calls are not the major communication method used. Texting is the much more common way teens communicate with each other. In fact, kids between ages 12 and 19 send an average of 3,000 or more texts every month, and some teens exceed 10,000 texts a month. Since texting often features an evolving shorthand and doesn’t require adherence to great grammatical skills, many parents and educators wonder if the ongoing texting revolution could negatively impact students’ writing skills. And the mixed results of recent studies are somewhat surprising.
Cyberslang and Textese
Texting isn’t a bad thing in and of itself— it’s simply a different form of communication with a unique language. The fact that teens rapidly develop, disseminate, and adapt to text-speak is actually a good thing; it takes some level of intelligence and logical skill to do so. But full immersion in textese may not be positive, and some of it is used for less-than-ideal purposes.
Most cyberslang is adopted for efficiency purposes: BRB for “be right back” and “IDK” for “I don’t know” are examples of innocent shortenings that make talking with thumbs faster. Other shorthand is designed to avoid parental involvement or understanding, including MOS (mom over shoulder) or LMIRL (let’s meet in real life).
Regardless of what parents think about texting, it’s certainly a good idea to keep up with cyberslang and communicate regularly with teens about what’s going on in both their digital and physical worlds.
The Positive and Negative Impact Texting Has on Students
Whether or not texting negatively impacts writing skills depends on perspective. Teachers have pointed out that digital tools such as spell check and auto correct have eroded students’ spelling skills, leading to more mistakes in handwritten work.
At the same time, a study published in PLoS One refers to textese as a language register and notes that use of textese didn’t impair the written language skills of participants. In fact, the study suggests that students who texted regularly may see an improvement in written language skills and even grammar. At the very least, texting puts communication muscles to work regularly for teens who are sometimes otherwise isolated and would likely communicate less without an option to text.
Another study looked at texting on the campuses of 70 universities and found that individuals regularly carried on text conversations with as many as nine other people. That type of multitasking with written communication—even in text form—may also help drive stronger skills.
What Can Parents Do to Offset the Negative Impact of Texting?
While there are some benefits derived from the common practice of texting, the constant use of shorthand and relying on a computer or phone to correct grammar and spelling can lead to poorer performance on written assignments. This is more likely when texting is the primary—or only—way teens engage with others and with the written word.
Parents can help balance the impact of texting on writing skills by encouraging a comprehensive approach to communication that includes writing and reading. Some options include:
- Encouraging teens to read magazines, books or even websites of interest to them
- Talking regularly about the role technology plays in everyone’s life and where appropriate lines may need to be drawn
- Modeling the use of analog writing formats, such as journaling or writing old-fashioned letters
- Making writing and communicating in written formats fun and engaging instead of stuffy and “old-fashioned”
- Discussing times when spellcheck or a technical device doesn’t understand context or connotation and can’t communicate as well as speaking in person
By understanding teen texting habits, talking openly about technology and encouraging a holistic approach to writing and reading, parents can combat negative effects of regular text use.