Why do teens text?

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I recently heard this story about kids who text so much their social skills may be starting to suffer. The example given in this story is a teacher who states that students are more likely to ask questions virtually, via email or perhaps some sort of course management system, rather than come up and ask her in person.

I was as socially awkward as they came, in high school. And some teachers petrified me more than others. I would have loved the ability to avoid them! I do not think that text messaging is the reason students don’t particularly enjoy talking to their teachers.

Still, the majority of that article, as well as many others, focus on how much texting teens are doing. Researchers (empowered with tax dollars, surely), teachers, and parents alike stare at kids confused. Several of my friends, who were once convinced that “if they wanted to talk to me, they’d call me” now send well over a thousand texts every month. So, what happened?

I’m one of the haters. I text as little as possible, but it’s still easily 20-30 texts sent every day, with some days going far higher. I remember the first time I got a text message, not knowing my phone was capable of it, circa 2003. I remember building my mobile plan from ten cents per text, to 100 texts a month, to 300 texts a month, to 500, then finally unlimited. I remember proposing to my friends, before unlimited texting plans were available, a device that would forgo voice communication and be used solely for unlimited texting at $40 a month (I still think it’s a good idea). But why have the youngsters taken to texting? I don’t know why it’s so hard for so many to see.

The answer is simple. Teens and younger generations text because it allows us to multi-task. I can carry on multiple different conversations at one time. We are a multi-tasking society, and studies have shown younger generations are far better at it than our elders. What was thought to be a distraction has proven not to as disastrous as once thought, as younger employees browse the internet at work and still get more done than tenured employees who curmudgeonly hate technology. If I call someone, that takes away from my ability to talk to the plethora of other people I may be talking to at that exact same time. Texting also allows for a response later. This isn’t much different than leaving a voice mail or even an email – but the message is wherever you are and the response can be immediately returned.

It seems painfully obvious to me, but I’m sure we’ll continue to see increased usage of texting. We will also continue to see researchers scratch their heads as to why kids avoid social interaction? But I do not think it’s causing our kids to become e-hermits, I think it is almost entirely motivated by the desire and ability of teens to multi-task and interact with multiple people at one time.