Monday, December 7, 2009

Textual revolution?

Did you see the Zits comics in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal? If you missed it, it starts with young Jeremy looking quizzically at his cell phone while his parents stand nearby.

“Seriously you guys. Something is wrong with my phone” he says.
“Can you still make calls with it?” his mom asks.
“Why would I want to do that?” Jeremy asks incredulously.

I enjoyed this strip so much because it cleverly points out how age effects how we see our cell phones. To me, it’s a phone. To kids, it’s a digital telegraph.

I was visiting with a parent yesterday about how kids use their cell phones more for text messaging than for talking. She shared how she noticed her son was becoming withdrawn and uncommunicative. His grades were dropping and his attitude was less than stellar. Her solution: let him keep his cell phone but remove the texting option. The result: his grades improved but more importantly he became more communicative.

This conversation got me to wondering: Are their negative effects of text messaging for middle school students? My cursory research found:
• Teenagers average over 80 text messages a day
• Repeated texting can lead to pain in thumbs, neck, and shoulders
• Since many teens keep their phones by their beds at night, constant texting can cause teens to interrupt sleep or never settle into a deep sleep.
• Habitual texting can lead to inability to shut down outside communication. Texting puts kids in instant contact and there is societal pressure that makes kids think they need to be in constant contact all the time. A text message demands a response as soon as possible. Plus since teens often feel an innate need to know what is happening there is added pressure to constantly check for new texts.
• Decreased attention span can result when teens are more focused on secretly texting during class than on the teacher’s lesson.

Science is just beginning to assess the effects of text messaging on our youth. But you don’t need to be a scientist to know that kids love to text. In fact I rarely see our students talking on their phones (except to their parents).

Do I think that texting is bad for our students? It depends on each child’s maturity and each family’s situation. I do think that parents should be aware of the potential hazards of texting, both physical and social, and have a conversation with their kids about it. I also strongly encourage parents to check their child’s messages, pictures, and videos to find out who they are texting and what they are saying. Remember, texting is an option and kids need to be reminded it can be removed.

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