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How Is Textism & Text Messaging Affecting Teen Literacy?

Texting was invented and introduced in the ’90s, but it wasn’t until the 2000’s when it reached its peak. If you were old enough to own a cellphone back then, you’d be familiar with the text slang and the shortened words every teen used.

Typing on alphanumeric keypads, replacing letters with numbers, removing vowels to shorten words, and fitting a whole message into 160 characters were just some of the things that text messaging made us do.

Today, teens spend even more time texting, and it has started to affect their grammar and literacy.

teens text messaging

Text slang has evolved from Leet Speak to just abbreviations (iykyk, yk?) and confusing terms (why has delicious gone from “yum” to “bussin?”).

Boomers and Gen X are having a hard time keeping up, but it all just keeps changing.

Have you ever wondered how text messaging is affecting teen literacy today? Is it causing more harm than good?

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the ways text messaging is affecting teen literacy.

Understanding Textism And Its Effects On Teen Literacy

What Is The Difference Between Texting And Instant Messaging?

Both texting and instant messaging relate to sending messages from one person to another. The main difference is that texting requires a cellular network (SMS or MMS), and instant messaging allows users to communicate in real-time using apps connected to the internet (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, iMessage).

In this article, we refer to both texting and instant messaging and might use them interchangeably referring to messages that teens send to one another in a way to communicate.

❤️ Suggested reading: Snapchat Etiquette: Do’s & Dont’s 

What Is Textism?

Textism is the use of abbreviations and the shortening of words to make a text message (SMS) or an instant message. It was originally brought on by the limit imposed by older mobile phone models, which only allowed up to 160 characters for one text message.

Phrases like “how are you?” turned into “hw r u?” while words like “forget” became “4get.” At first, it was all about efficiency and being able to fit your whole message into a single text. No one wanted to pay the price of a single text message if they weren’t using at least half of the character allotment. Text rates were crazy back then!

You could say that textism is the unofficial language of texting characterized by the following:

The use of abbreviations, initials, and acronyms – using the first letter of every word in a phrase is an efficient way to shorten messages. For example, “wyd?” means “what (are) you doing?” and “tl;dr” or “tldr” means “too long; didn’t read” which is often used as a sarcastic response to an overly lengthy message or text.

The use of letter and number homophones – another thing you’ll see when teens use this texting language is the use of letter and number homophones. For example, instead of spelling out “tonight” you could simply say “2nyt,” effectively shortening the word from 7 characters to 4.

The use of typographic symbols and emojis – by now, everyone’s familiar with emojis. Back then, they were called emoticons, and you had to type them out manually. Aside from these, typographic symbols like “zzz” to mean “sleep or boring” and “xo” or “xoxo” to mean “hugs and kisses.”

Letter repetition for emphasis – textism is also often characterized by repeating letters for emphasis and to convey emotion. Ever got a text that said “nooo” when you texted someone with unbelievable news? Or maybe one that said, “omg the steak here is soo goooddd.” When you see those extra letters, you know the person texting you has some strong feelings and emotions about the topic.

Word contraction, clipping, and shortening – removing vowels is a common practice among people who text. For example, instead of saying, “are you done with the homework?” you could say “r u dun wd d hw?” or say “ c u 2mrw” instead of “see you tomorrow.”

Spelling with an accent – it’s interesting how teens constantly come up with these new words just for the heck of it. Spelling with an accent is fun, and it’s a great way to get your creative juices flowing, too. One of the most recent words the internet has been introduced to is “naur,” which is just “no” but with an Aussie accent. Next time you come across a word you’re unfamiliar with, try to sound it out loud!

Stylized spelling – “please” has turned into “plz” and “help” into “halp.” Teens say “school” but spell it as “skool” and say “with” but spell it as “wiv” all because it’s fun, quirky, and unique.

The Negative Effects Of Texting and Textism On Teen Literacy

negative effects of texting on teen literacy

Though texting is undoubtedly one of the best and most efficient communication tools for teens, it has several negative effects on teen literacy that parents can’t just shrug off.

With the average American teen spending about nine hours a day glued to their phone, it’s not crazy to think that all that texting is bound to affect the way they read and write in some way.

How is text messaging affecting teen literacy negatively? Here are a few of the most common problems that parents, researchers, and educators believe have risen from texting:

Not Being Able To Tell Standard From Non-standard Spelling

Because texting has become the norm for communicating with their peers, teens use textism more often.

Non-standard spelling for words (especially long ones) is used more repetitively, and these often stick to teens’ brains as the standard/correct way to spell said words.

This explains why some teens are confused about spelling some words correctly (e.g., whether or not gf should be spelled out as ‘girlfriend’ or ‘girl friend’ and the like).

Forgetting Grammar Rules

Texting is very casual and relaxed. The only rule when texting someone is to make sure that the person you’re texting understands what you’re trying to say.

Because of this, teens often forget about grammar rules and just string together words to make a sentence willy-nilly.

One common phrase that seems to have been accepted as the norm despite being grammatically incorrect is “where they at?” or, in text speak, “wer dey at?”

Following grammar rules, “where” and “at” should never be used in the same question to avoid redundancy. Technically, “where they at” translates to “at which location are they at?” which is grammatically incorrect. Instead, it should be “where are they?”

Becoming Lazy And Preferring To Use Textism

In a 2015 study by Sima Singh, a professor at the Delhi School of Professional Studies and Research, 100 teens were asked whether they prefer to use the correct and proper spelling of words like ‘please’ and ‘you,’ and data showed that more teens preferred to use the shorter spelling of the said words.

The same study also showed that 82% of teens asked preferred to use short words when texting, and 36% even said they use the short form of words when answering their exams – making this one of the biggest negative effects of texting on writing skills.

Not Being Able To Use Proper Punctuation

You’ve probably seen countless memes about how proper punctuation can save lives (“Let’s eat grandma!” vs “Let’s eat, grandma!”).

It’s a funny joke, but also one that accurately targets today’s teens’ difficulty in using proper punctuation.

This is because text messaging does not necessarily call for proper punctuation. Teens can send “wyd” to their friends, and everyone automatically knows it’s a question that means “what are you doing?”

Not Being Able To Use Uppercase And Lowercase Letters Properly

Students who text too much and get used to writing messages via text often forget the proper use of uppercase and lowercase letters.

You’ll often see them unnecessarily start random words in the middle of their sentence with uppercase letters.

Some teens also don’t care enough to start every sentence with a capital letter or even capitalize the first letter of a word if it’s a proper noun.

Find out: Is High School Capitalized

Having A Weaker Vocabulary

Predictive text is a feature that most smartphones these days have. It allows the gadget to learn how one texts based on patterns.

With this feature, teens don’t even need to think of what word to use next anymore. Their phone does it for them. This can lead to a weakened vocabulary in teens.

Relying Too Much On Tech To Fix Errors

Today’s gadgets are indeed smart. Teens get to text their peers without worrying about grammar, punctuation, and the likes because their gadget takes care of it for them.

Unfortunately, in real life, like when they’re answering essay questions for an exam, their pen won’t do the same, as pens do not have an auto-correct feature.

Teens rely on their gadgets too much, so they’re left clueless about how to correctly write for their exams and other schoolwork without their phones.

Having Less Time And Interest In Books

Reading is an important part of developing one’s literacy skills.

As a teen, your child should be exposed to more books than gadgets. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case anymore for most teens.

These days, teens are reading the bare minimum by reading only what’s required for school and not reading for pleasure or to enrich their literacy skills.

This could also potentially affect their ability to pay attention to and comprehend long-form content, which is essential in succeeding in school.

Deficiency In Interpersonal Development

One of the biggest negative effects of texting rather than talking face-to-face is that teens are not given the opportunity to interpret non-verbal cues, which stops them from forming close relationships and communicating effectively.

It’s much easier to answer by text as then you have time to think about your answer and phrase it accordingly.

Limits Social Boundaries

Using messaging instead of speaking to peers directly, allows them to hide behind their devices and not have to look the other person in the eye. This causes problems with social boundaries and might make them think it’s okay to say (text) things that that they would not say out loud.

Encourages Instant Gratification

Being able to instantly send and receive messages instills a need and expectation of instant gratification that teens did not necessarily have before they had ways to communicate instantly.

The Positive Effects Of Texting and Textism On Teen Literacy

positive effects of texting on teen literacy

While plenty of research supports many parents’ and teachers’ concerns about the adverse effects of text messaging on teen literacy, there are just as many studies that show how texting is positively affecting teen literacy.

Language is constantly changing and evolving, and texting is contributing to that change and evolution.

As new words are invented, the language we all know expands and grows. Here are some of the positive effects that texting and textism have on teen literacy.

Being More Familiar With Phonetics

Because teens use letter and number homophones, they are able to hone their phonological skills further. They can make out complete words, phrases, and sentences from a combination of a few letters and numbers, and they’re able to use that effectively to learn and communicate.

Conventional letter and sound combinations are taught at an early age. This skill is something that we all use throughout our lifetime.

Thanks to texting, teens are also able to discover unconventional ways to link sounds and letters.

This can also become a helpful tool for teens who plan on or are already in the process of learning a second language.

Having Better Verbal Reasoning Skills

Verbal reasoning is a critical component in improving one’s literacy skills. Being exposed to texting and the use of textisms, teens are able to become more understanding of what they read, even when words are not fully spelled out.

In fact, you can give today’s teens an entire paragraph filled with typos and textisms, and most of them would still be able to understand the whole thing.

Being Encouraged To Get More Creative With Writing

Because texting is so casual and relaxed, teens feel more at ease when writing messages. This makes it easier for them to express their thoughts more accurately.

Text messaging also encourages them to play around with the spelling of words, both old and new. It gives them a chance to use it, albeit misspelled, and not be corrected by parents/teachers or peers.

Being More Confident Through Creative Literacy

Creative literacy is a concept that encourages teens to think outside the box. It’s a holistic approach that makes learners more engaged and interested in learning.

Teens who text can explore and experiment with their reading and writing skills more freely, making them more confident in building their literacy skills.

It’s easier for them to do a play on words in ways that non-texters wouldn’t dare to explore because they know that they’re free to use words however they please and that they don’t always have to submit to the rules of spelling and grammar for others to understand what they mean.

how is text messaging affecting teen literacy

Despite texting getting a bad rap for its possible negative effects on teen literacy, it’s clear that texting isn’t as bad as we make it out to be at all. Yes, a few problems could stem from teens texting too much or using too much textism. However, there’s a lot of good things that could come from it, too.

Of course, the old saying still holds true — too much of anything is bad. Parents and educators have a significant role in making sure that teens can tell where textism and textspeak are appropriate to use and where it isn’t. With proper use and guidance, texting can even help teens boost their literacy skills.