Childhood Developmenthow Texting changes the way Kids Communicate

Our kids are becoming text mad. They’re instant messaging and while instant messaging, they’re usually sending these messages to more than one person. If you’ve ever driven a car load of teens around, you will relate to the above statement. According to industry research, most kids between 6 and 9 already own a cell phone. In fact, many are on their second cell phone by the time they’re ten. In a study in the journal ’Paediatrics’, 58% of kids between 10 and 15 listed communication as the main reason they go on line. Therefore the majority of today’s children are more aware of the importance of good communication skills than they were before cell phones came into being.

But a myriad of parents are not too impressed. Many of them are worried that our children spend far too much time hiding in the shadows while social networking, enjoying interactive gaming, web communities and now texting. Now it seems as if our kids are spending far too much time engaging others through a screen instead of forming and making friends face-to- face. When children initially started to venture online, parents had very high concerns about their children interacting with complete strangers. More so the undesirable adults. But research has shown that the majority of children spend their time chatting with the same people day in and day out. The same applies to text messaging.

But text messaging differs in that children are usually interacting with the same people they know in real life. Kids from school, youth groups, sports groups, neighbours and church etc. From the age of 8 to 13, children are doing what comes naturally. They are developing key relationships and improving their communication skills. Consequently they wish to spend most of their time with their peers. Technology hasn’t really changed this natural part of growing up. It has simply given children a different way to interact. Many child relationship experts say that texting appears to be tailor made for the tweens. It allows them to connect with their social friends and also gives them the opportunity to include others. One can show the text to mutual friends, their parents and so forth. Statistics also shows that the average cell phone customer sent and received approximately 1.5 texts per call.

Tweens under 12 years of age exchange an average of 3 texts per call. A host of child behaviour experts say that we should not be too concerned about the amount of texting children do. Why? Well put the expense to the side for a moment. Now give thought to the fact that texting buffers any type of awkwardness, shyness and insecurities. It is not immediate face-to -face interaction and this helps increase children’s confidence and self esteem. This is already an awkward stage in the child’s life. They have much to contend with, insecurities about their looks, weight, popularity, acceptance and so much more. Children are relieved of anxiety and this is a plus. Of course there are some potential risks such as embarrassing moments if one texts that they like a specific boy or girl.

The recipient can forward these personal messages to the entire school. But this pales in comparison to seeing the true face of rejection. But is this healthy? Many parents wonder if this will suppress their child’s ability to deal with true life situations in the real world. Marion K. Underwood, Ph.D., is the director of the Centre for Children and Families at the University of Texas and Dallas. She is in the middle of a multiyear study of social behaviours in children. Her team began studying a group of children six years ago. These children were initially in the 3rd grade. The study watched these child enter the world of electronic communication. By the time these children were in 6th grade, it was noticed that they were clutching little cell phones as if they were gold nuggets.

Researchers then gave the children BlackBerrys which were programmed (with the kid’s and adult’s consent) to capture all the text messages. Surprisingly, most of the text messages were of the “You go, girl” variety. Which shows that these kids were giving each other support. This is basically building up each other’s self esteem and that is commendable indeed. To children, text messaging is not the heart of their friendships but it keeps it rolling and to them, that is a plus. Much of texting is also based on meeting up, making plans to meet friends face- to- face. They are not replacing friendships and true social interaction, they are said to be enhancing a child’s social skills. And studies have also shown that children who text, almost always, switch to a richer mode of communication such as phone, IM and face to face.

Many parents are quite surprised when their children text them before anyone else. This was what happened when the researchers gave children the BlackBerrys. Many parents thought their children would text friends first. A myriad of non custodial parents are chuffed when their children ping them so often as well. And one man in Australia was a little overwhelmed to see that he had received more than 24,000 pings off his son in one month. He’d received approximately 17 off his wife in the same time. He admitted that his first reaction was pride, not anger, that his son had chalked up so many text messages. Unfortunately, the downside of text messaging is the appalling grammar children end up using.

The short hand text messaging is carried over to school and a plethora of children are now using this instead of correct English. Many child educators have concerns that this inhibits children’s ability to read and write effectively. The author’s sister who is an English teacher in Australia, has frequently marked essays which go somewhat like this: IMO, the skl wud b grt if it granted us hols more oft. Lol, I’d lke that!” Deciphering this is a battle for many teachers. Children must be taught when this type of communication is inappropriate. Those parents who are not up to date as far as deciphering these texts can end up with children in all sorts of strife. Conversations become very private and silent, unnoticed by others.

Messages can be cleared and not recalled and most children learn very quickly how to lock you out. Therefore you end up knowing nothing about a child’s insecurities, sexual promiscuity, peer pressure, venture into drugs and alcohol abuse etc, until it is too late. It is a parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s texting. Parents need to purchase cell phones or iPhones, which can be coded by the parents. They can then unlock any messages if they have any concerns about their child’s safety and behaviour. Text messaging can keep the lines of communication open. Used in the right manner, they can even be a safety device.