Text messaging can affect kids’ spelling, grammar and communication, but in a surprisingly positive way.
According to a 2005 survey by Media Awareness Network, six percent of Grade 4 students own a cell phone and by Grade 11, the percentage rises to 46 percent. Of those users, 56 percent use the text messaging feature. As the popularity of text messaging grows, so does the criticism. Naysayers offer many arguments against the popular communication tool, saying it decreases spelling and grammar abilities. However, if used properly, texting can be a useful and effective method of communication.
Spelling it out
Tweens are well-versed in shortform texting – C U L8r (see you later), LOL (laugh out loud), BTW (by the way) – and some say this negatively affects literacy. But Margaret Eaton, president of ABC Canada Literacy Foundation disagrees. “To be good at texting, children must already have a good level of literacy awareness,” she says. “Before you can experiment with short forms, you need to have a sense of how the sounds of the language relate to the letters. Texting can actually help with communication as it has added a new dimension to language use. Thinking of ways to shorten messages can stimulate the imagination. “Twenty years ago, the main form of communication was the telephone; today it is email and messaging. Kids are constantly practising their writing skills.”
The important thing for young texters to remember is that texting involves slang that is not appropriate in all situations. Much like saying, “Yo Dog! What up?” to their grandmother, writing TAFN (that’s all for now) in a school assignment is not proper. “Children need to be instructed in how various genres operate and what conventions to use with a given genre,” says Rachel Heydon, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Education in London, Ont. “Children should learn when they are writing a letter to their principal to ask for a longer recess, it will need to follow the conventions of a formal letter, including conventional spelling. With proper instruction in genres, children can learn to write in a way that suits the context.”
Regular reading helps If parents worry that their child is picking up bad habits through constant texting, they should encourage regular reading activities. “Parents can’t discourage technology,” says Margaret Eaton. “It is here to stay. But you can influence what your children are reading and learning. Integrate reading and learning into family activities you enjoy together. Try to foster a life-long love of reading by being an avid reader – of printed and digital materials.”
Amy Bielby is ParentsCanada’s Associate Editor and texting master.
Published in October 2010.