Parents, teachers, guidance counselors and even some school students are raising questions about the surging tide of text messaging.
A Pew Research Center study found that the average girl between the ages of 12 and 17 sends and receives 80 text messages each day, and the average boy of the same age group sends and receives 30. One in three teens sends or receives more than 100 text messages daily. Ring tones can alert them to incoming messages for a 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week connection with “friends” from all over.
Younger children pick up the habit early. Some of them text message their parents as often as 10 times a day. At parties, they often text each other instead of chatting aloud.
Two recent studies have produced some answers to questions about whether the proliferation of technology and social networking is helpful or harmful or a mixture of the two. Two hundred students at the University of Maryland abstained from using all media for 24 hours at the request of Public Agenda, a nonprofit organization. Their blogged impressions showed that some knew they had become addicted and most of them felt lonely and disconnected at going without their cell phones, iPods, Facebook, e-mail and television. They missed newspapers and magazines far less. The researchers concluded that “most college students are not just unwilling, bit functionally unable to be without their media links to the world.”
Riverdale Country School, a private school in the Bronx, N.Y., tried a voluntary two-day holiday from social networking. According to The New York Times, those younger students found the experiment unusually relaxing. They were shocked at how quickly they finished their homework, undistracted by an always-open video chat or the need to check in on Facebook or a need to respond to the hundred messages they get in a typical day. Some sensed an unexpected feeling of freedom.
Teachers and guidance counselors see good as well as bad in all these electronic devices. They do provide a means of gathering information quickly. They broaden students’ circles of acquaintanceships. But at the same time, they take up time that might otherwise be spent playing outdoors, actually hanging out with other kids, or reading.
Constant electronic connection may hamper the growth of independent thinking. A child who text-messages a parent every time a question or decision comes up instead of figuring out the answer personally can miss out on developing self reliance.
Young people may have gotten so caught up in the use of their cell phones and iPods that they have no idea of what life was like without them. Our schools would do well to consider a voluntary electronics ban for a day or two and let the students judge for themselves their advantages and disadvantages.