Teens Are Speechless When It Comes to Technology – But Is That Such A Bad Thing?

August 10, 2010 at 8:29 am 2 comments

Not long ago, prattling away on the phone was as much a teenage rite as hanging out at the mall. Flopped on the bed, you yakked into your pink or football-shaped receiver until your parents hollered at you to get off. Today’s teens, however, prefer their Sidekicks and their Blackberries and their Razor phones, not to talk, but to text.

They do it late at night when their parents are asleep. They do it in restaurants and while crossing busy streets. They do it in the classroom with their hands behind their back. They do it so much their thumbs hurt.

Daily text messaging among teens has increased from 38 percent of teens texting friends daily in 2008, to 54 percent of teens texting daily in 2009. The average teen sends and receives 50 or more messages per day, or 1,500 per month, according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Boys typically send and receive 30 texts a day while girls send and receive 80 messages per day. Older girls are the most active texters, with 14-17 year old girls sending 100 or more messages a day or more than 3,000 texts a month.

All this texting is making employers and communications experts anxious: This generation may be technologically savvier than their bosses, but will they be able to have a professional discussion?

“We are losing very natural, human, instinctive skills that we used to be really good at,” says Sonya Hamlin, author of How to Talk So People Listen: Connecting in Today’s Workplace.

A couple of years ago, Hamlin was asked to teach a class of “very bright” California high school seniors about the college admissions interview. Their mock answers were “extremely short and not informational. Nothing came out, really, because it’s such an unused skill.”

So are today’s teens losing their verbal communication skills?

Part of the reason, Hamlin says, is because “they’re not listening. With IM, you can reread six times before deciding how to answer.” There’s no improvisation, she says, none of the spontaneity of phone banter or a face-to-face chat. “Talk is a euphemism. We do it now in quotes,” Hamlin says.

And when face-to-face chats do occur, there are other verbal kinks. Stefani Beser, a freshman at Villa Julie College near Baltimore, texts so much — 20-40 times a day “if there’s a lot going on” — that the shorthand creeps into her live conversation. “You’ll be talking and all of sudden you’ll say, ‘Oh, LOL or OMG,’ ” text-speak for “laughing out loud” and “Oh My Goodness”.

But has all this texting improved the amount of communication overall?

Back home, teens text their moms regularly telling them where they are. Teachers send reminders about class projects and homework.  Boyfriends and girlfriends even court each other through Facebook and then IM to get to know each other better via a digital relationship:

The primacy of the keyboard has been, well, a lifeline to the kind of guys who, a generation ago, grasped the family room receiver with a sweaty palm and a pounding heart. IM “makes life easier, absolutely,” says Nick Kacher, 17, a junior from Waltham, Mass. “I’m not a big sit-around-and-chat-on-the-phone kind of person.” Friends, and girlfriends, would needle him about his phone phobia. Now, with IM, “I definitely do chat.”

In the meanwhile, phone companies are tapping into teens’ tapping tendencies. Virgin Mobile  unveiled its Switch Back, a kind of junior BlackBerry with a qwerty keyboard and AOL IM built in. “We really think that text is the new talk,” the company’s Howard Handler says. A quarter of Virgin Mobile’s teen customers use their phones for texting more than talking. “We are living in a 160-character nation,” the maximum text message length, Handler declares. Today most cell phone plans include a Media Package focused on texting rather than phone minutes.

So is texting a helping teens socially, or limiting them? These two schools of thought will play out in this new generation of young texters while our daily lives and vocabulary picks up more SMS language, (Short Message Service text slang), on a regular basis.

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Entry filed under: Communication, Digital Citizenship, OneSeventeen Media, Social Emotional Learning, Social Media, Technology, Tweens, Youth. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Maggie  |  August 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    there’s a lot more to the communication skills story. texting is one problem, but so is the parents/family not caring. a lot of families don’t do family meals anymore, it’s a rare and precious gem when i go to a friends house and we all sit down to dinner. as much as i hate to say it, video games also hurts our communication skills, people who just play mmos all day like wow, or something like that, don’t get as much face time as a teen who does sports. there are lots of factors here, not just texting.

    Reply
  • 2. Gabi  |  August 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I do tend to prefer to chat and IM instead of talking on the phone. To guys at least. it gives me time to analyze and usually over analyze every word combination and put together the perfect response. If it’s a friend then I tend to talk to… them on the phone or talk to them webcam to webcam. I do text occasionally. Maybe an average of 10 texts a day. I do have some friends that text at every oppertunity and racked up HUGE phone bills. I do prefer talking face to face to people but because I’m homeschooled I tend to communicate most of the time through texting or IM. It does annoy me when people use chat speak face to face or when they write in it when not texting or otherwise. FOr example when I sometimes help my mum grade some tests from her 6th grade class they sometimes use “u” instead of “you” and ect.

    Reply

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