With the popularity of cell phones and other gadgets, it’s no surprise some of that technology pervades our lives and changes social interactions. An example is the use of text messaging. Text messaging (or texting) is when users send short typed messages using a mobile device, usually a type of cell phone. In just a few years, the rate Americans send text messages have increased drastically. One billion text messages were sent in the first quarter of 2005, and now the monthly average is 26 billion messages a month, according to Verizon Wireless. Between the second and third quarter of 2008, the number of messages sent each month increased by 70 billion. Now data services (where text messaging lies, along with games, ringtones, and music downloads) account for 25% of Verizon Wireless revenues.
Teens are large contributors to the presence of text messaging in society. Nielson Mobile reports that teens send and receive, on average, more than 1,700 texts a month. Just this year, one American teen logged over 6,000 text messages in one month. The most ardent texters are usually between 13 and 17 years old.
As a result of this abundance of text messaging, parents and educators are wondering about the immediate and long term affects of constant text messaging.
One question parents have about text messaging is the affect is has on a teen’s interpersonal skills. While it’s too early for researchers to know the long term effects, many have formed conflicting theories on how text messaging is changing the development of teens.
One researcher at the University of California at Irvine believes that text messaging can have a positive effect on teens. Teens these days are extremely busy with school and activities, and text messaging gives them plenty of time and opportunities to interact with friends, which is necessary in the healthy development of their socialization skills.
Additionally, the ability to send text messages gives teens and parents the convenience of simple communication. Teens can easily text message a change of plans, arrange for rides, or ask a simple question, while parents are able to keep up to date of their teen’s activities and whereabouts. Text messaging may also come in handy during emergencies.
Some researchers also speculate that the ability to juggle text messaging with doing other tasks (like homework and watching television) gives teens an advantage in the workplace, where multitasking is praised and, oftentimes, necessary.
On the flipside, however, others believe that this multitasking is harming a teen’s ability to concentrate and believe that the attention span of today’s youth is shrinking and will become even smaller when they get older. Additionally, some think a great deal of text messaging will have a negative impact on face to face relationships. This school of thought believes that a texter is never fully present in a situation and is usually more focused on the person they are messaging than the person sitting next to them.
Another text messaging related concern among parents is the relatively new phenomenon known as sex-ting. Sex-ting is when someone sends another person (or multiple people) a provocative message or nude or semi-nude pictures, usually of themselves. A poll on CosmoGirl.com, along with the Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, reveals just how common this practice has become: roughly 20% of teens admit to sex-ting, with a slightly higher number of boys admitting to it than girls.
Many teens who participate in sex-ting intend the recipient to be the only person who sees the content of the messages; however, that is not usually the case. One fourth of girls poll and one third of boys polled have seen pictures that were sent to (and intended for) other people. The teens who were polled also said that sending racy pictures and text messages make them feel more confident and resulted in a more aggressive personality in person, which could lead to a higher sense of sexual aggression.
This practice of sex-ting is even bordering on criminal. Young teens that practice sex-ting have the potential to be involved in legal troubles. In Pennsylvania, three teenage girls, ages14 -15, allegedly sent nude pictures to three boys, ages 16-17). Now all parties involved are facing child pornography charges.
Driving while Texting
Perhaps the most physically dangerous result of avid text messaging is texting while driving. A 2006 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 80% of crashes in America are caused by distracted drivers. NHTSA defines a distraction as “anything that takes your eyes off the road (visual distraction), your mind off the road (cognitive distraction), or your hands off the wheel (manual distraction).” A person who is text messaging while driving is susceptible to all three types of distractions at once. The Administration, along with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, also found that 80% of auto accidents occur within three seconds of a distraction. For the average user, even typing a short text message reply takes more than three seconds. And a 2007 American Automobile Association (AAA) study found that 46% of teens admit to being distracted by text messages while driving.
Some examples of the dangers of text messaging while driving include, a 17 year old driver who was text messaging and collided with a tractor trailer, resulting in five deaths; a Los Angeles teen died in a solo-car accident while texting; and an Indiana teen was driving too fast while texting and wrapped his car around a utility poll. All three examples occurred within the past year.
In hopes to reduce the number of auto accidents involving teens, Illinois has a graduated driver licensing system, which prohibits anyone under the age of 19 to use a cell phone while driving, except in cases of emergencies. The law bans all uses of a cell phone while driving, even sending or receiving a text message. While this law is a great way to reduce the number of teens who text while driving, an AAA study found that 46% of teens still drive and text at the same time. With numbers like that, it can be deduced that some Illinois teens are still texting while behind the wheel.