General Parenting Issues — 30 July 2010
The blessings and curses of texting

Text messaging, known in the vernacular as “texting,” has become a frequently used communication tool for exchanging written messages through a cell phone. Though it is an easy, quick and efficient mode of social connection, it poses some physical and emotional challenges and serious risks to the users and society.

The social advantages of texting, initially popularized by teenagers, have extended to parents as well as seniors for various reasons.

For adolescents, the use of texting today has replaced the phone use of yesteryear. In “Understanding 12-14-Year-Olds,” Margot Waddell reports that youngsters gain “uninterrupted access to each other’s lives, a continuous hotline to the minutiae of moment-by-moment relations and tribulations,” that helps them feel connected and supported and “leaves many parents feeling entirely bypassed and redundant.”

Rebecca Huntley, in “The World According to Y,” extends the age span when she says, “Communication technology – in the form of mobiles, e-mail, online chat and of course texting – has become an indispensable tool for Gen-Yers, (people born on or after 1982), in maintaining their friendship networks (and their own status within it).”

More adults text their children to receive quicker responses. “It is pretty clear that the increasing rate of text adoption in recent years is fueled by our children altering how we stay in touch with them,” said Kim Dixon, Senior Vice President of retail for Sprint.

Adults, ages 55-64 are also sending more text messages. Their numbers have risen over the last two years from 13 percent according to Pew Research to 20 percent reported by Sprint.

Psychologically, being able to reach loved ones and be acknowledged promptly, increases our sense of value. Gladeana McMahon, Fellow of the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy affirms, “People who become dependent on texting and emailing are desperate to feel connected and in control.”

Physically, using a small keyboard with two fingers or thumbs may be strenuous. Neurologist Orly Avitzur, found that, “Repetitive-strain injuries are the most common side effects of text messaging usage.”

Educationally, teachers have complained that abbreviations and spelling mistakes used in texting have impacted students’ academic papers, as reported by Donita Massengill Shaw in “An Exploratory Investigation into the Relationship between Text Messaging and Spelling.”

The riskiest outcome of texting is its use during driving. Pew Internet Project reported that, “27% of all American adults say they have sent or read text messages while driving. That compares with 26% of American teens ages 16-17 who reported texting at the wheel in 2009.”

Being connected to others is a valid human need, but it cannot be so compelling that we risk our own and other people’s lives.

• Respect your teenagers’ need to text their friends – it satisfies their sense of belonging and worth.
• Benefit from texting as a parental supervision tool and as an expeditious message delivery system.
• Model for your children full abstinence from texting in the car and insist on their compliance. It is a life-saving measure.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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