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The Effects of Texts

How frequent messaging impacts kids

March 2014

Do you feel like your child never puts her phone down? A research study published by Common Sense Media in summer 2012 found texting to be the most common form of digital communication among teenagers ages 13 to 17. The study revealed that 87% of teens in that age group had communicated by text, with 68% texting daily.

Younger kids are getting in on the action as well. "It's happening before sixth grade," says Shants Hart, Director of the Middle School at Park Tudor. Doug Stotts, Park Tudor's Head of Academic Technology, reports that many children begin using cell phones around fourth or fifth grade. Given the popularity of texting, what are its effects on kids' reading, writing and conversational skills?

Text trouble?

We asked our Indy's Child readers for their thoughts on texting via an informal Facebook poll, and responses were mixed. Laura M. believes that "auto correct doesn't force [kids] to think or learn how to spell." In contrast, Jenny B., a teacher, does not feel texting has a negative impact on her students' skills. "They have to know the difference between 'school talk' and 'street talk,' so this falls into the same category," she writes.

Hart, however, believes texting "absolutely" has a negative effect on writing skills. She says students are unaccustomed to using conventions such as apostrophes and traditional spellings (i.e., "love" versus "luv") in their everyday written communications, and these texting tendencies sometimes make their way into school papers. Stotts says today's students need to understand how and when to "code switch" between informal texting language and more formal academic language.

A study published in The Journal of Computer Assisted Living in 2011 on texting and literacy abilities in adolescents, actually shows a positive correlation between texting language and reading skills. However, Hart believes the fast-paced nature of social communication has caused children to believe that paying attention to anything for more than a couple of minutes "is just really hard work." She stresses the importance of reading comprehension and says students must learn to read for detail. Interestingly, Hart feels she has not seen an impact on her students' ability to carry on an "out loud" conversation as a result of texting.

Technology tips

For parents concerned about texting's impact on their children, our interviewees offer some suggestions. Don't rush to provide toddlers and preschoolers with digital devices, says Hart. She recommends waiting until at least first or second grade when kids can actually benefit from educational apps.

For kids using devices, communication between child and parent is key, says Stotts. He recommends parents discuss screen time limits with their kids as well as consequences if rules are violated. Hart believes that parents need to closely monitor their children's text message behavior, especially during the impulsive adolescent years between ages 10 and 15. Parents should also model appropriate behavior, says Stotts. "You've got to show them what you expect and how you use your devices."

Regarding reading, Hart feels it's okay to read some things on a Kindle or iPad, but says, "I think that there's a lot of value in picking up an actual book." She recommends parents have their kids read for 15-20 minutes every night.

The bottom line? Texting and text speak are an inescapable part of modern life. "Sometimes we have parents approach us and they want to lock everything down," says Stotts, who believes this is the wrong method. Instead, Hart adds "Parents just have to be more involved now, because of the power of these tools."

Tags: Featured Article, Featured Article, In This Issue, Parenting

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