Is Texting Friends Socially Delaying Our Kids?

August 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Communication, Parenting, Teenagers/Tweens

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texting friendsIs texting friends a good thing? Does texting and other technology have a downside? I think that everyone would agree that there are concerns about sexting and cyber bullying. However, many parents feel that these issues don’t apply to their kids; after all, they are just texting friends!

But I have become concerned about another issue regarding all this technology…the subtle changes in friendships and other social relationships. While texting friends is fun, easy and can be done “on the sneak,” it is devoid of true social interaction. “LOL” really doesn’t capture a shared laughter between friends, and “LMAO” doesn’t have two friends laughing so hard that their bellies hurt and catching each other with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Texting friends with CAP LOCKS might indicate negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, frustration, jealousy, and so on…but how can they really tell which emotions are being conveyed? There isn’t the opportunity to hear the tone or volume of a voice, nor catch the expressions on the other person’s face. It can be inferred that “WTF” means something…but is it pleasure and surprise? Or annoyance and disbelief? Where are the raised eyebrows, the crinkled up noses or the broad grins to give some clarity to the situation? How can the written word be a clear conversation?

It can be argued that texting friends, Instant Messaging (IM) or posting on Facebook (FB), Twitter, TumbleR and the other social media sites allow kids to be more connected than ever…and 24/7 if they so choose. They have instant access to their phones, and are found texting in class, in the dugout, at the movies, etc.  So, you can make a point that kids stay up to date with each other and share more about themselves as things are actually happening.

But the quality of the interactions is suffering. What’s missing when kids are communicating strictly by texting friends and the like are all the social cues of face-to-face interaction. Or even voice communication! Kids aren’t even using their cell phones to call their friends; it’s all about texting friends. I am very disheartened when a child in my office says that she had a great conversation with someone…only to find out that it was via texting and not speaking. I know that telephone conversations are also lacking face to face time, but at least all the inflections and intonations of the voice can be detected. But when texting friends, there are no social cues!

I am afraid that kids today are missing opportunities to interact face to face…which to me means the lack of experience in learning to read body language and facial cues, and even develop empathy that comes with being together and sharing intimate feelings. So many kids are texting friends, and putting “LOL” or a smiley face at the end of the text, how are the receivers supposed to really tell if the message was a serious one or not?

I recall reading a study by the Pew Research Center that found that kids ages 12-17 sent 50 or more text messages per day; a third of the kids surveyed sent more than 100 per day! Two-thirds of the texters said they were more likely to text their friends than they were to call them.

Gary Small, a psychiatry professor at UCLA calls this latest generation “digital natives.” He, too, believes that texting friends and other technical social contacts are negatively impacting the kids’ ability to read social cues. “Even though young digital natives are very good with the tech skills, they are weak with the face-to-face human contact skills,” he was quoted as saying.

What’s the answer? Certainly, technology isn’t going to go backwards. Gone are the days of three-hour telephone conversations via corded phones, and even cell phone chats or e-mail messages are considered passé. I know that video chats, face time and Skype are starting to take the place of simply texting friends. I like that because at least the kids can see each other. It still isn’t the same as actually being together in person, where they can hug, give a playful punch in the arm or high-five actual skin to skin. But it’s better than not making any visual contact at all.

Then of course, there’s the old fashion way of doing things…Getting together with friends and actually spending time together making eye contact, learning the nuances of facial expressions and when they “LOL” they will actually hear the delicious sound of their laughter intertwined with that of their friends. Now, that’s social interaction at its best!

What do you think about texting friends? Are your kids texting friends in place of face-to-face contact?

Please comment about texting friends below.


2 Responses to “Is Texting Friends Socially Delaying Our Kids?”
  1. Andrea says:

    I agree with the points that texting does not and can confuse what a person is actually trying to say! Most adults I know now prefer to conversate via text than actually picking up the phone. A close friend would get so frustrated with me when I had a question and I’d text her and instead of texting back she’d call me because she couldn’t understand my texting lingo.
    I use texting to avoid confrontations whether they be good or bad! However I now understand when trying to get information or get your point across it’s difficult to do so through text.

  2. What a great article. Not just kids, also adults often use their mobile phone as a tool to hide behind, much like people use avatars online. It almost gives them a sense of permission to say things they wouldn’t say face to face because of the sense of anonymity. This article links perfectly to your article on iPhone rules!