Is Texting Ruining Our Children?

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Monday's New York Times included an article on the purported dangers of texting (or text-message-sending, for you grumpy older folks). Entitled Texting May Be Taking a Toll, the article strikes me as bizarrely alarmist, and recalls social panics of my youth (see The Panic Over Dungeons & Dragons (in 1985)). Perhaps it's my own wasted youth talking, but this article is downright silly. Here are some key clips:

[Texting] is beginning to worry physicians and psychologists, who say it is leading to anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.

Texting may also be taking a toll on teenagers' thumbs. Annie Wagner, 15, a ninth-grade honor student in Bethesda, Md., used to text on her tiny LG phone as fast as she typed on a regular keyboard. A few months ago, she noticed a painful cramping in her thumbs.

... "Based on our experiences with computer users, we know intensive repetitive use of the upper extremities can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, so we have some reason to be concerned that too much texting could lead to temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs."

Still, some parents are starting to take measures. Greg Hardesty, a reporter in Lake Forest, Calif., said that late last year his 13-year-old daughter, Reina, racked up 14,528 texts in one month. She would keep the phone on after going to bed, switching it to vibrate and waiting for it to light up and signal an incoming message.

Mr. Hardesty wrote a column about Reina's texting in his newspaper, The Orange County Register, and in the flurry of attention that followed, her volume soared to about 24,000 messages. Finally, when her grades fell precipitously, her parents confiscated the phone.

My Take on Texting

OMG, teenagers are overdoing something?! They're getting cramped thumbs from too much technological twiddling? Say it ain't so! (We used to call this Nintendo Thumb back in the day.) None of this is new: teenagers overdo everything -- that's part of the point of growing up. The particular technology is irrelevant; teens will discover and overuse (even abuse) whatever technology, game, or other distraction is available. Teens eventually learn to moderate their own behavior, and most come through it without impaired thumbs.

In the same way grownups are stunned by statistics about teen texting today (tens of thousands of texts per month! Egad!), grownups have always been stunned by what teenagers are doing "these days." When I was a kid, the main panic was over video games. Statistics about how many hours kids spent planted in front of video games shocked parents, and made them wonder how a kid could possibly grow up without going outside to play stickball. Prior to video games I'm sure parents couldn't fathom how kids could grow up with so much television, or loud rock music, or wild "dance parties," and so on.

Read the Times article and let me know what you think. Is there something special about texting that makes it particularly worrisome? Do you have personal experience with this issue, either as a teen or parent? Share your thoughts in the comments.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nate Steiner, used under Creative Commons license.)

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May 26, 2009 - 11:26am
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