Why do kids text so much?

By Anne Collier

I enjoyed these observations of a mobile tech pundit on why his 13-year-old granddaughter, Caroline – who he says sends 200+ text messages a day, seven days a week – and her peers are so into texting….

* First there’s the urgency/immediacy factor, J. Gerry Purdy writes <http://www.mobiletrax.com/Newsletters/tabid/115/EntryId/36/Why-Kids-Text-So-Much.aspx>: The little trill that sounds when a message has arrived creates a sense of urgency to respond that becomes a chain reaction as the conversation ensues. Maybe it’s like how, before there were answering machines, Mom just had to get the phone every time it rang.
* Text as conversation fragment. “Conversation” is the operative word. A text is not like an email or a whole phone conversation, each a complete unit with its opening and closing protocols; it’s *part* of a conversation. Which is why the number of texts adds up much faster even than the number of emails or phone conversations in a day, and there’s no need to panic over the latest data on teen texting.
* Brevity. The 160-character limit tends to keep things moving – and cryptic, as in code like “ltr” for “see you later,” “idk” for “I don’t know,” “jk,” for “just kidding,” or “g2g” for “gotta go” (people use similar shorthand in Twitter, of course).
* It takes two (or more) . All that texting his granddaughter does is only half (or a quarter or an eighth) of the conversation or discussion. It’s not always easy to end a conversation when the person or peer group at the other end(s) has/have a lot to say.
* The cultural factor. “Kids tell other kids how many text messages they are sending,” creating a cultural norm – a powerful thing, which is why we advocate the social-norms approach to risk prevention, communicating things like 96% of kids don’t sext (because it’s absolutely true as well as compelling).

Purdy concludes by saying that he’s not worried about all this texting. “My only recommendation to parents is, don’t allow your kids to use texting as a way to prevent having a real, live relationship with someone else.” Actually he has three, and the other two are just as good: “Sit down with them frequently and have a normal, thoughtful conversation. And, make sure you talk about no texting in unsafe situations, like driving.” I’d add one more: Setting an example for your kids is much more effective than words, so we need to maintain our own situational awareness when using phones, be present for others, and don’t text or talk while driving too.

Related links

* “72% of US teens are daily texters”: the latest from the Pew/Internet Project (last April), which also found that “half of teens send 50 or more text messages a day, or 1,500 texts a month, and one in three send more than 100 texts a day, or more than 3,000 texts a month.” Compare that to Purdy’s granddaughter’s 200 texts a day.
* “House rules for teen texting” <http://www.netfamilynews.org/?p=28460>
* “Teens text while driving less than adults: Study”
* “When to get the kid a cellphone”

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