The Language of Texts: The Dangers of Texting Too Much
On an average day, your teen probably sends well over 100 text messages a day. Depending on the profession, parents can send about the same or even more texts in a day. Gone are the days of making phone calls when you need to ask someone something. Instead, a simple text message can get the job done much faster and you get to skip the awkward greetings.
Many kids and teens who have grown up with the evolution of smartphones have likely made very few phone calls in their life. When they do, they opt for things like Facetime, Snapchat, or other forms of communication that allow you to see the person on the other end. While teens are quick to adapt to new technology and apps, parents and grandparents generally lag behind and stick with the apps and programs they’re comfortable with or make traditional phone calls.
While texting is a convenient and quick way to communicate, words don’t often adequately convey what a person is trying to say. Worse yet, if your writing skills aren’t very strong, people can be quickly annoyed by poor spelling and grammar. But what is probably more dangerous than the occasional accidental misunderstanding is the missed opportunities for real human interaction. Teens sending hundreds or even thousands of texts a month spend the majority of their social interactions in cyberspace and often miss out on important human interactions. Skipping a real in-person conversation or phone call might not seem like a big deal when you’re a teen, but can be detrimental when having to work directly with people is important.
The Language of Texting
During the evolution of the internet, professionals and nerds had to create etiquette for the simple act of sending emails. The language of texting has evolved in a similar way with the inclusion of images like emojis and gifs to further a point or make jokes. Many people speak in shorthand, abbreviating words where they can, opting to use numbers in place of words, or even simply writing entire sentences in emoji.
While the language of texting may not seem like a big deal, it’s important that kids and teens understand writing a text message and writing a school paper use two entirely different languages.
Take a glance at the writing assignments of any teen who spends hours texting and you’ll find that many kids with poor writing skills will write how they talk, or how they talk while texting with friends. Without a firm grasp of proper grammar and a lack of any encouragement to read for pleasure, many kids and teens simply learn texting as their dominant language.
The problem is exacerbated by the reliance of spelling and grammar-check through popular software like Microsoft Word and even auto-correct on smartphones. To put it simply, kids are failing to learn to write and spell properly because texting has virtually eliminated the need to know how to do either properly. With a mild grasp of the English language and what words are supposed to look like, a teen can get away with sending a text message and being understood despite not learning much in English class.
A Different Kind of Social Interaction
Truth be told, I have a number of great friends I met online that I have known for years. The problem with having online friends is more often than not, they don’t live anywhere near you, which was the majority of my experience.
In the early days of the internet, meeting someone new on the internet meant going into chat rooms and actually striking up a conversation with someone. In the age of social media, one public post can lead to a surge of people reaching out to talk. It can lead to the fifteen minutes of fame most kids crave.
Chat rooms and popularity on social media might be great temporarily, but they aren’t the best form of social interaction. In fact, interacting completely by text robs teens and kids from learning how to express themselves in the real world. There is no substitute for being out in the real world and talking to a person in front of you.
Building interpersonal relationships is not only an important part of growing up, but it’s critical to learning how to interact with strangers or co-workers in a work environment. Being able to look someone in the eyes while having a conversation is much different than sending text messages or looking at a smartphone screen. Facetime, Zoom, and Skype might let you see the person on the other end, but still doesn’t suffice as a form of natural human interaction.
Though it may seem strange, the human mind knows the difference between a video call and an in person conversation. Quite simply, humans need social interaction and community. Visiting with friends and family on a computer screen might work for the short term and had to suffice during the pandemic, but it does not satisfy the human need to be with people.
A Distraction to Safety
According to the NHTSA, 3,142 people were killed by distracted driving in 2019. It’s no secret to any parent and teens behind the wheel are likely texting while driving. While car manufacturers and tech companies are doing their best to make sure texting while driving is kept to a minimum, the reality is that no system will ever be completely safe. Teens will always feel as though they are in complete control and they are fully capable of texting and driving. That is until something bad ultimately happens. It is this overconfidence that parents and teachers need to warn teen drivers about.
However FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a central part of a technology addiction, not just in teens, but in everyone. Our addiction to constantly being in the know every minute of the day and being available even when it’s acceptable not to be on the phone is a severe problem that is being passed from parent to teen. And it’s this addiction that causes teens to casually overlook their own safety and the safety of others while doing something as complex as driving.
The fear of not answering someone’s text quickly, or needing to know who is trying to reach us while we’re driving or doing something dangerous, has led to numerous accidents and deaths. More shockingly, however, is that though many teens understand the dangers of texting while driving, many of them still admit to doing it.
The Need to Unplug
While it’s easier said than done, everyone needs to unplug every once in a while and experience life to the fullest without the ball and chain that is a smart phone. Families should sit down and talk about their technology habits, especially texting, and find ways that allow themselves to get away from their devices.
Before the invention of social media, people were actually social. People went and did things together and a phone was something we kept at home. And now, even when we’re being social, we feel the obsession to take out our phones and document our experiences, no matter how small, on our phones to share with others.Teens, and overworked parents, could benefit from a technology detox. Finding ways to put the phone down, or other forms of technology, and decreasing their dependency of social media, texting, and simply being in the know will not only keep kids and teens safer, but it will also improve their overall mental health. A slow detox will teach teens it’s okay to let friends wait for a response to their text. It’s alright not to return someone’s phone call right away if it’s not important. And it’s definitely alright not to pull out the phone to take a picture to share with everyone on social media.