Tween Texting Affects Grammar Usage And Health

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Laugh out loud (LOL). Be right back (BRB).  Talk to you later (TTYL). These are just a few of the short acronyms that are seen in texts. Texting has become one of the go-to-ways for communication, especially for tweens who are equipped with cell phones.

Researchers from Penn State recently found that, while text messaging allows tweens to send notes to family and friends in a quick and efficient manner, it may lead to a decline in their language and grammar skills.

To begin, more and more tweens are utilizing techspeak (language adaptations) when they text. Techspeak is described as including shortcuts, like homophones, words that omit non-essential letters, and initials to compose a text message quickly and efficiently. The researchers found that those tweens who use it frequently often do poorly on grammar exams.

Drew Cingel, a former Penn State undergraduate student in communications who is currently pursuing a doctorate in media, technology, and society at Northwestern University, conducted the research. Cingel also worked with S. Shyam Sundar, a Distinguished Professor of Communication and co-director of the Penn State Media Effects Research Laboratory.

“They may use a homophone, such as gr8 for great, or an initial, like, LOL for laugh out loud,” explained Cingel in a prepared statement. “An example of an omission that tweens use when texting is spelling the word would, w-u-d.”

Cingel decided to delve into this topic of grammar skills influenced by texting after receiving texts from his younger nieces.

“I received text messages from my two younger nieces that, for me, were incomprehensible,” Cingel said. “I had to call them and ask them, ‘what are you trying to tell me’.”

The investigators believe that constant use of the shortcuts may make it difficult for tweens to move between using techspeak and normal rules of grammar.  The findings are reported in the current issue of New Media & Society. The journal, ranked internationally and peer-reviewed, includes research on communication, media, and cultural studies.

In the project, the researchers had middle school students take a grammar assessment test. The students, based in a central Pennsylvania school district, were tested on grammar material that was equivalent to coursework found in the ninth grade. Following the test, the researchers reviewed the exams to make sure that the students understood the concepts that had been highlighted in the exam. At the end of the study, the scientists received a total of 228 surveys (42.1 percent).

The researchers also distributed a survey that asked students to describe their texting habits, like the number of times they received and sent out texts, as well as their thoughts on the importance of texting. Students were also asked to detail the ways in which they adapted the last three messages they had sent and received.

“Overall, there is evidence of a decline in grammar scores based on the number of adaptations in sent text messages, controlling for age and grade,” commented Cingel in the statement.

Based on the results, the researchers determined that the frequent testing correlated with poor performance on the test, specifically increased use of word adaptations.

“In other words, if you send your kid a lot of texts with word adaptations, then he or she will probably imitate it,” remarked Sundar in the statement. “These adaptations could affect their off-line language skills that are important to language development and grammar skills, as well.”

On the other hand, the investigators saw that the students´ practice of forgetting capital letters and leaving out periods from the ends of sentences did not influence students. The adolescents practiced corrected structural adaptations, with correct capitalization and punctuation on the test. They also believe that the use of technology impacts tweens´ use of shortcuts as many tweens choose to write their message on mobile devices, such as phones that are composed of small screens and keyboards.

“There is no question that technology is allowing more self-expression, as well as different forms of expression,” commented Sundar in the statement. “Cultures built around new technology can also lead to compromises of expression and these restrictions can become the norm.”

While the study shows a large percentage of students whose grammar skills are declining due to the use of cell phone technology, other adolescents attempt to continue to use correct grammar. Janine Kong, a ten-year-old who will be turning eleven years of ages on Monday, texts three to four messages a day to her family. She cites texting as “easier than calling.”

“I usually use full sentences, maybe without periods. Occasionally I might write long texts, usually I write short ones,” noted J. Kong. “I try to use good grammar, but I don´t know if I really do.”

Ling Kong, a 24-year-old graduate student, believes that peers influence her sister´s texting behavior.

“She gets influenced by her friends a lot. Maybe in front of me, she´ll mostly write correct words. Maybe with her friends, she writes more of that stuff like abbreviations,” said L. Kong.

Besides a decline in grammar, there may be other health risks to frequent texting. For one, texting can cause disrupted sleep. Many adolescents who receive and send text messages late at night can end up interfering with their daily sleep schedule. As such, increased nighttime texting can lead to long-term fatigue.

“Parents aren’t necessarily regulating the use of the electronic devices enough,” explained Margie Ryerson, a therapist in northern California who specializes in adolescent issues, in a prepared statement “It’s impossible to wind down and relax the body, the mind, the senses and be ready to fall asleep.”

As well, young children may receive negative texts that may be considered intimating or threatening. These bullying text may make a child feel unsafe. As such, it is necessary to discuss various options to cyberbullying.

Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic provides a number of tips for parents and guardians to help monitor texting habits and create appropriate limits. One important recommendation is fostering communication regarding texting and the correct use of cell phones. Another recommendation is setting an approximate limit to cell phone use.