Will today's teens always be texting fiends? New research indicates that teen texting habits may be a symptom of the times and not the generation itself.
As a recent Pew Research Group study describes, "[Today's teens] are history's first 'always-connected' generation. Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multi-tasking hand-held gadgets almost like a body part." These authors further note that "it's not just their gadgets -- it's the way they've fused their social lives into them." It has long been apparent that teens seem to have a special affinity for making use of the now ubiquitous and widely-accepted form of communication known as "text messaging" (SMS). However, will the frenetic pace with which teens and young adults fire off these acronym-laced messages persist into adulthood?
Researchers in Norway recently published a study addressing this very question. Specifically, they examined whether text messaging is a "life phase" phenomenon (something that is adopted and used by a group only during a specific portion of their lives), or a "cohort" phenomenon (something adopted by a group who then carries it with them as they mature).
After surveying teenagers and adults alike, the researchers found that, indeed, the greatest use of texting was among those in their late teens/early 20s, especially around age 19 to 21. However, the study also revealed that frequency of texting decreases as teens mature and move into adulthood.
These findings support the notion that, while texting may serve as a central medium of social communication among adolescents, it becomes less of a "driving force" with increased age. Why might this be case? One explanation offered by the researchers is that "texting gives teens direct access to peers in a period of life when they are developing their social self and establishing their personal identity." More specifically, the researchers suggest that "there is urgency to text and to respond to texts among teens as they work out their social status among peers...they are engaged in the establishment of a social sphere outside the homes of their parents and in their nascent romantic adventures." In contrast, those in their mid-20s and beyond use text messaging for more practical endeavors (such as conveying important information), and may even find sending and responding to text messages burdensome. Thus, as individuals move into later phases of their lives, they may change not only the frequency but also their style of texting. That is, there may be a shift in usage from "texting-as-socializing" to a means of accomplishing practical tasks (e.g., reminding one's forgetful spouse to pick up the kids from school).
While mobile service providers hoping to see sustained increases in text messaging across time and age might grumble at these findings, perhaps concerned parents can take solace in the notion that their "antisocial" teenage children will eventually return to more traditional forms of interpersonal interaction.
-- Eden Epstein, PhD. and Nick Mattos