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Some fear texts curb face-to-face communication skills

Photo: Rob Bowling II

Recent studies have led some to wonder if teens are becoming less able to communicate face to face because of all the texting they do.

By Madison Wray, Staff Writer

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If you find yourself without your cell phone and it makes you feel lost or somehow “incomplete,” you’re not alone.

More than 75 percent of America’s teens have a cell phone, and one-third of the teens in this country text more than 100 times a day, according to the 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project.

In fact, texting is the most common form of communication outside of school among 12- to 17-year-olds, far exceeding talking on the phone, email, the use of social-networking sites or face-to-face communication. This finding by Pew prompted recent stories questioning whether or not today’s teens are losing the ability to communicate in person.

Fairmont junior Jessie Powers counts herself among those teens who text a lot. She estimates she sends 50-100 texts each day. “I would much rather text someone when I can’t talk to them on the phone at that time or when I’m in an awkward situation,” she said. “But I also like to call friends if there is an important subject to discuss.”

Texting is simple, but …

Almost everyone agrees that if you’re trying to communicate a short message simply and quickly, nothing beats a quick text. But do text messages always yield the best long-term effects?

Fairmont junior Caitlin Hageman prefers calling over texting because she believes it’s more beneficial. “I would rather call someone. I mean, I like texting, but I think when you call someone, it gets the point across more,” she said.

Powers contends that texting isn’t ruining her social skills completely. “I think that by texting I’m becoming less social,” she said. “But at the same time, I am always social around people.”

Texting whenever, wherever

Teens often text because they can’t call when they’re in certain places such as a movie theater or school, the Pew report found. Not surprisingly, the study also showed that teens still text in the classroom, even though most schools don’t allow it.

At Fairmont, students are allowed to use their cell phones between classes and at lunch, but when class starts, phones must be put away. Fairmont began allowing this limited use of cell phones in the spring of 2008.

“I think that texting in the hallways may have increased a little,” said Hageman. “But students still tend to text in class, maybe because they think the school has become more lenient with cell phones.”

Girls lead the way

Most teens would agree that they often text friends simply out of boredom. Regardless of the reason, however, girls are the champion texters, sending and receiving about 80 texts per day compared to 30 per day for boys. “Girls are also more likely than boys to text for social reasons, to text privately, and to text about school work,” the Pew report said.

The study also found that a higher percentage of girls than boys text their parents or guardian, typically because they want something or need to ask a question.

Speaking of parents, some parents take a stand and take their teens’ phones away if they are in trouble or fear that the teens are getting too preoccupied with their mobile phone. Limiting a teen’s cell phone plan is another way to curb an obsession with texting. The Pew study found that teens whose parents limited their texting are less likely to send a text that they regret or that contains sexual content.

It’s proven that teens are obsessed with their phones, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Only time will tell if that obsession will result in long-lasting negative consequences. But the folks at Pew appeared to be concerned by media reports that used their data to suggest the loss of social skills among teens. On the Pew Internet website, a Pew official argued that the study results could be interpreted in a much more positive light, noting that texting is happening in addition to other forms of communication, not in place of it.

“Rather than becoming monks sitting in their cells, the material may actually point in the direction of more social interaction, not less,” the Pew site states.

Text that to those who are telling you to put your phone down.

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The school newsmagazine of Kettering Fairmont High School.
Some fear texts curb face-to-face communication skills