, May 17, 2006
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - HHOK, I was FOCL.
This may not look like English, but it is
a truncated form that teens are increasingly using to communicate, through
text messaging and instant messaging on phones and computers.
The letters translate to: “Haha, only
kidding, I was falling off my chair laughing.”
Studies show text messaging is changing the way
young people communicate, for
better and worse.
Although phone texting has been praised for
helping teens to connect to each other and to their parents, it
has also been criticized for its potential in making it easier
for teens to cheat on exams or to bully each other with the help
It can also eat up time and money.
Mary Madden, a research specialist for the
Pew Internet and Life Project, said 45 percent of teens
have a cell phone and 33 percent of teens send text messages
from their phones.
Of those teens who have cell phones, 64
percent regularly send text messages, according to
study on teens and technology, published in July 2005.
Text messaging was not even included in the
Pew Internet and Life Project’s study from 2000, Madden said.
At that point the craze had not yet caught on, she said.
Sherrie Cunningham, a
spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, said that during the first quarter of 2006, 9.6 billion
text messages were sent or received through its service. Verizon
claims about 60 percent of the country's wireless phone users,
The figures represent a
huge spike from the 3.6 billion messages sent or received in the first quarter of 2005 and
500 million from the first quarter of 2003. The company
launched text messaging as a service in 2000.
Researchers say teenagers are attracted to
text messaging because they want to be in touch with their friends all
“Being connected to your peers in part of
being a teenager,” said Anastasia Goodstein, founder of
Ypulse.com, which provides news and commentary about Generation
Y. “Todays teens are hyperconnected 24/7.”
Goodstein is writing a book titled “Totally
Wired,” which she said will be published in early 2007. The book will
focus on the many impacts technology is having on teenagers.
On the plus side, Goodstein said, texting
gives teens a fun way to communicate with their friends and also
gives parents an easier way to contact their children.
But, she added, there is a down side. “I
think [texting] is slightly addictive,” she said. “Teachers and
schools are having a hard time controlling it during school or
There have been well-publicized incidents of cheating
through text messaging at high schools and universities over the past few
years. In 2003, for instance, six University of Maryland students admitted to
cheating on an accounting exam via text messaging.
Madden said text messaging can also become a burden for some
“At this point in teens’ lives, there’s so
much emphasis on communicating with friends,” Madden said.
“Now, it’s about posting on Myspace, or responding to texts.”
Sarah Wren, 21, a senior at the University
of Maryland, said that she rarely sits through a whole class
without texting a friend on her cell phone.
“It’s just that class can get boring
sometimes,” Wren said. “Why not kill some time talking to a
friend who is also probably bored in class?”
“I don’t know what I would do without text
messaging,” said Tara Valentine, 19, a sophomore French major at
the University of Maryland. “It’s like my main source of
for cyberbullying and
cheating are two negative facets to the increase in text
messaging among teens.
courtesy Nate Steiner) |
In fact, Verizon Wireless now offers text
messaging for its customers from computers, making it even
easier to connect with friends in different locations.
The message is sent from a computer
directly to the phone of another person.
“Most classrooms have computers in them
now,” Wren said. “So it doesn’t even look like you are sending
a text message.”
Goodstein believes that text messaging is a fun
way for teens to be social but also hears countless stories of
inflated phone bills due to it.
“A teen girl will be fighting with her
boyfriend over text messaging and suddenly has a $200 phone
bill,” Goodstein said. “Parents are getting wise to this
and either saying no to texting or buying unlimited or prepaid
plans,” she said.
According to the Verizon Wireless Web site,
it charges 10 cents for every text message sent or received.
Some of the negative aspects of teens and
text messaging include their ability to
“cyberbully” other students, Goodstein said.
According to cyberbully.org, the term
stands for “sending or posting harmful or cruel text or images
using the Internet or other digital communication devices.”
Nancy Willard, executive director The
Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, said that she
believes text messaging among teens has increased bullying. “If you have a cell phone available, it increases the amount of
time you can bully someone,” Willard said.
She has seen this as a growing problem
among teenagers and something that parents cannot take lightly.
“Parents need to have a real serious talk
with their kids about cyberbullying,” Willard said. “They
should say, ‘If you are using your cell phone to bully and I
found out, I’ll take it. GOT IT?’ ”
Willard, 53, who has three children of her
own, two of them teens, also has other worries about the way
teens communicate. “Kids entering college now only know how to
gab, there is no in-depth thinking,” she commented. “It’s all
on the surface level. What are we doing to our kids’ brains?”
Ken Joseph, associate director of the
Media, Self and Society Scholars at the University of Maryland,
said he has seen an increase in the amount of cell phones he
sees in class.
“It’s funny to me because it seems like
students can’t sit through a one-hour class without constantly
looking at their cell phones,” Joseph said. “What did they do
But, some say,
increased text messaging does not have to be a bad thing.
“Technology in and of itself is not
positive or negative,” Goodstein said. “It’s how people use
Copyright © 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill
College of Journalism