Q: My two teens text constantly. Is there research showing that all those "LOLs" and grammar shortcuts hurt students' writing skills? I'd love a reason to make them put down their phones.
A: If you're looking for a reason to reduce teens' texting, research on writing skills won't provide one.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that texting in class distracts students (Duh!), leading to low grades and discipline problems. But that puts "texting" in the category of yesteryear's note passing and pigtail pulling -- mere diversions from the important business of focused learning.
Many folks worry that texting reduces actual conversations, resulting in poor oral language skills. Employers who hire today's teens say they now put more effort into training employees on how to speak to customers, use complete sentences, make eye contact and engage in responsible conversations.
But don't blame texting for poor writing scores, says Ardith Davis Cole, a literacy specialist with 30 years of experience in the nation's public schools.
"Actually, texting has increased students' interest in writing," she says. "Not so long ago, students never wrote at all, unless writing was assigned. Many saw writing as only a school activity. It was common for kids to dislike it; some actually feared writing."
Texting came along, and "today's kids write all the time," notes Cole. "Some may only write text messages to friends and family, but others use the Internet for a variety of writing. They blog, post on Facebook, express their opinions on forums and tweet.
"Texting? I say, write on!"
Does texting make it harder to learn the rules of good writing, such as grammar, punctuation and spelling? Cole says no: "Research over decades shows no link between grammar instruction and writing proficiency. What does promote good writing? Reading! Encourage your teens to read lots of different styles and genres."
Cole says that some educators think creativity suffers when students spend time texting rather than journaling or composing.
"They shouldn't worry," she suggests. "A quick Google search demonstrates how few of the world's creatives were inspired through their own creative writing experiences. However, collaboration does inspire creativity!"
While creative writing is a wonderful skill, "it's not what most adults use in their lives," says Cole. "When a boss emails her salesperson to ask, 'Why are sales down?' that employee doesn't create a poem or a story, because most bosses expect a clear, factual, brief but comprehensive emailed response that sheds light on the problem."
Let's not throw the technology out because it's misused or overused, says Cole: "This isn't a writing issue. It's a social issue. Many parents are catching on. They tell their kids, 'Put away your phone for a while because it's family time.'"
If you're looking for evidence to dissuade teens from texting, consider data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing how much texting distracts drivers. And who has the highest proportion of "distraction-related fatal crashes"? Teens. So go to YouTube with your two and watch Werner Herzog's new documentary, "From One Second to the Next," a haunting examination of victims of driving-while-texting accidents.