texting teenager
Jana Rooheart

Member Article

Teen’s best friend

The image of a texting teenager that cannot get his eyes off the screen and pays zero attention to the world around him is iconic. Parents and educators have been concerned about this nasty habit of ignoring reality for years, but things haven’t budged an inch. Does solution at all exist?

The first SMS was sent more than 20 years ago, and over the time, the medium had its ups and downs. After multiple message applications and 3G Internet access were introduced, many predicted an inevitable demise of text messaging. However – and this may come as a surprise – not only texting is alive and kicking, but is augmenting in popularity. Even more curious – it is still immensely popular among youngsters between 13 and 18 years of age, and they prefer it to instant messaging. How come?

According to various polls, the main reason to acquire a mobile phone in 2008 were safety considerations (both in adults and teenagers). In 2016, by the contrast, young people name texting as cellphone’s primary function. This shift occurred due to several aspects of texting.

#1 Accessibility. Almost everyone has a cell phone today – and this is the only condition one has to fulfill to be available for texting, regardless of the model. Another significant feature is that texting is Internet-independent: it doesn’t matter whether you or your interlocutor have currently got access to the web – you still may exchange messages. Besides, different instant messengers are not compatible with each other, so it only works out if all of your friends are using the same application as you. By the contrast, SMS is universal.

#2 Stealth. As opposed to a conversation via mobile phone, sending and receiving SMS is quiet and can pass undetected, so many adolescents use texting to be “in two places” at a time. Particularly, when they find the first place where their physical body got stuck, boring (class, family dinner, lousy party). Often they complain about it in their texts and find comfort in making arrangements for upcoming activities, which will hopefully be more fun.

#3 Anonymity. That is visual anonymity, as well as voice anonymity – you know to whom you text, yet you only rely on their description of their reactions and mood, the lack of visual feedback is compensated by emoticons. This feature is very apt for socially anxious teenagers. On top of that, texting provides perpetual human contact to those who are lonely.

#4 Secrecy. Courtesy of textish – texting jargon, which includes abbreviations (PIR for “parent in room”), emoticons and non-alphabetical symbols (b4 instead of “before”) – teenagers gained the possibility to exchange encoded messages even with adults around, and what can be more compelling than teens-only secret code? It allows them to be cheeky and naughty – and get away with it. Besides, it also serves youngsters as a mean to express their individuality, creativity, and resourcefulness.

This last aspect of SMS communication gives a great deal of bother to parents, who despite their attempts to peek into their children’s correspondence by the means of text message monitoring apps, sometimes fail to get any sense out of it.

Teenagers name SMS on top of their lists of preferred ways of communication (second only to face-to-face interaction). They rate it even higher than phone conversations, because the latter means they are obliged to say “Hello” and go through other niceties, whereas texting is succinct and casual.

This being said, no wonder that texting became a nuisance for teachers and parents, who cannot part teens from their mobiles in order to make them study. An average adolescent has their phone always on the person, and it is almost impossible to prevent them from utilizing the thing. Though attempts have been made to ban texting in schools in connection with cases of sexting (exchanging explicit texts and pictures), bullying and even forcible suicide, teenagers continue to disobey.

However, is texting itself is the issue? Aren’t we barking up the wrong tree? After all, Short Message Service is nothing but medium, which meets the needs the youth of all generations has been having for centuries: communing with peers, sharing secrets, distancing from adults, feeling independent. Can we blame all problems we have with adolescents on technology, or should we rather try to face the challenge of upbringing our children without these excuses? After all, there’s always something: inappropriate books, wrong influence, bad company, the other parent, genetic heredity, tempora, mores, etc., etc. I am not advocating the abuse of the medium, just trying to point out, that it’s not the root of evil. If it weren’t for the SMS, teenagers would resourcefully find some other mean to distract themselves and misbehave discreetly. Take their mobiles away and they will start tossing paper planes or use carrier pigeons.

To end on an optimistic note: teenagers still prefer personal contact and use texting mostly for building and maintaining relationships with their peers (61%) and coordinating social events (31%). Now, isn’t this a reassuring piece of statistics?

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Jana Rooheart .

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