Texting may be preventing our children from developing needed communication skills

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Jerald McNair is a school administrator at South Holland School District 151 in Illinois. He wrote this for the Chicago Tribune.

What is the difference between writing and texting? If you were to pose that question to youths from Generation Alpha — born starting in 2010 — many of them may be hard-pressed to answer. Members of younger generations, including Gen Z, have grown up with cellphones as part of their everyday attire.

It is estimated that more than half of American children owning a smartphone by the age of 11, according to a survey conducted by Common Sense Media. By the time they turn 8, about 1 in 5 have their own cellphone.

The wide use and ownership of these devices mean that youths are communicating more. While educators will tell you that allowing children to dialogue and engage at different levels helps their language skills, the type of written communication conducted on mobile devices has the tendency of being more of a hindrance than a benefit to our youths.

Texting is its own language. Online tech dictionary Webopedia lists nearly 1,700 common abbreviations and acronyms used in texting. For members of Generation Alpha, who are at the beginning stages of language development, developing formal writing skills while using text talk creates challenges.

Teachers have explained to me how often they have to correct basic words in their students’ writing because far too many of them use text language in place of formal English. This may seem inconsequential; these youths are many years away from entering the labor force. But if steps are not taken to address this problem, it could present a challenge for our labor force and our economy. According to the US Department of Labor, written communication is a soft skill that is among the skills viewed as fundamental to an employee doing a job effectively. Companies identify writing as one of the essential skills for success in 21st century workers.

An unskilled labor force hurts productivity and compromises an individual’s employment opportunities, which ultimately hurt the economy.

Underdeveloped or poor writing skills may also hinder our youth in effectively communicating their emotions so that adults can understand them. We see the implications of this in the tendency of far too many of our youths expressing themselves through violent acts. Every day, about 360 teens are treated in emergency departments for assault injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens 10 to 14.

Do educators and parents miss some of the warning signs because they don’t understand the language that many of our youths are using?

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