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Do u text 2 much? Teens losing face-to-face communication skills
[August 24, 2009]

Do u text 2 much? Teens losing face-to-face communication skills

Aug 24, 2009 (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Stephanie Harbaugh was shocked when she saw July's cell phone statement for her kids' phones.

Her older son, Brandon, 15, had sent and received more than 7,000 text messages. Her older daughter, Alainah, 11, had swapped more than 3,000 of the electronic bits. Yet Harbaugh's kids have obeyed strict household rules about cell phones: absolutely no texting is allowed while a parent is talking to them, the table is a phone-free zone during meals, and no texting is allowed after 10 p.m. on a school night. If the kids break the rules, they lose the phone for at least a day.

Texting can be great and convenient, Harbaugh says, but within limits.

"I kind of feel torn," says Harbaugh, 37, of Greensburg.

In the digital age of cell phones, texting among youths has not only become a frenzy; it is a teenager's preferred method of communication, says Jennifer Austin Leigh, a nationally known teen expert who goes by "Dr. Jenn." Many young people would rather exchange text messages than have a conversation the old-fashioned way: chatting on the phone, or even talking in person. Many teens seldom answer their cell phones and let incoming calls go to voicemail, in order to train their callers to text instead, Leigh says.

Add the texting obsession to the Facebook craze and other online social networking, along with e-mail, and we have an relationship-stunted generation, she says.

"Kids are now typing as opposed to speaking," says Leigh, who is a consultant, speaker and author of books including "Laid or Loved?" "Our kids are growing up in a world where the technology used to connect us is actually disconnecting us. ... It's become an addiction." Texting also can be responsible for sleep deprivation, a common problem in teens, experts say. With this 24-hour access to their friends, teens can be up until the wee hours texting.

Through texting, teens will swap details of their day, cancel plans, break up, have lengthy and intimate conversations, and even have arguments and engage in verbal abuse.

As a result of over-dependence on texting, Leigh says, teens often misread facial expressions. "You've got a generation that is truly ... unlearning what little they do know about how to connect with other people," Leigh says. She runs two Web sites, and "Real human relationships are now suffering." Hope Bishop's daughter, Courtney, 11, is surrounded by friends who have cell phones, many for several years already. But Bishop, of Ford City, says she won't give Courtney a cell phone until she is in high school, probably. Bishop says she wants her daughter to communicate with others the old-fashioned way, and not become dependent on texting. Over-texting, when a real conversation is called for, is an irritating habit even among adults, she says.

"It's like they don't want to talk to people," says Bishop, 48. "To me, I think we're a society that's losing contact with people. ... I just don't think that cell phones need to be as important as they are." Just like adults, teens often feel hurt when they receive a text message that should have been a phone call or, better yet, an in-person conversation -- even though they might be guilty of having done the same thing to someone else. Text messaging can seem lazy, rude and impersonal, and when a child is constantly texting, it can be very annoying to parents, who feel their communication with their kids is slipping.

"I do not have one parent who hasn't complained about it," Leigh says.

Donna Stephenson, who coaches the girls' field hockey team at Pine-Richland High School, says that she values texting for the convenience, like when she tells her students that practice time has changed. Texting also is a convenient way for parents and teens to keep in touch without being too intrusive, the way constant phone calls would be, she says. Yet texting, for all its usefulness, can become unproductive when overused, says Stephenson, who recently took a road trip with her out-of-state niece. While Stephenson was hoping to use the car ride to really connect, her niece spent a lot of time texting her friends back at home.

Too much texting can inhibit family relationships, says Stephenson, who has three young sons.

"Parents are losing that opportunity to say, 'How's your day, and what's going on?'" says Stephenson, 44, of Pine. "It seems like their lives are continually interrupted by incoming messages." Is your teen's texting out of control? Consider these tips for reining in the texting habit: --Consider a phone plan that limits the amount of text messages that can be sent and received, or that blocks texting during certain hours.

--Have a heart-to-heart conversation with your teen about "sexting," which is the dangerous practice of sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phone. Don't talk at your child; listen, and ask questions like, "I've been reading about sexting. Have you ever been tempted to do that?" --Set phone-free zones and times, like the dining room during a family dinner. Put the cell phones away, and focus on your family face-to-face. Reclaim your right to family time, free of texting.

--Set a curfew for texting and phone use on school nights.

--Too much teen texting can be a major annoyance for parents, but remember that it's usually not life-threatening. Choose your battles.

Source: Jennifer Austin Leigh, a consultant, author, speaker and teen expert Kellie B. Gormly can be reached via e-mail or at 412-320-7824.

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