The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 10, 2012

Teens sending text messages at all-time high

Adults say conversation has declined

If 16-year-old Sydney Harris remembers that something in the clothes dryer needs to be removed, she will send a quick text message to her mother in another part of the house.

Same goes for a breakfast request by the high school junior as she is getting ready in the morning for classes in Carl Junction. Or if she wants to tell her brother, Christian, to turn down his music in his nearby bedroom.

“It may be laziness,” she acknowledged with a laugh. “But it’s handy if I’m in a rush. It’s time management. It’s just so much easier.”

Harris, who has used a cellphone since seventh grade, is one of the teens the Pew Research Center refers to as “typical” in research findings released earlier this spring: She is one of the 75 percent who now use texting as one of their primary forms of communication.

It hasn’t always been that way for Harris. When she first got her cellphone in middle school, she used it as a telephone.

“I called my parents if I needed ride after cheerleading practice, things like that,” she said. “I didn’t text then at all.”

Now, she sends “probably 150 to 200” texts per day — and yes, she has what’s called an “unlimited plan.” (She noted, however, that even a one-letter reply, such as the oft-used “’K” to indicate “OK,” counts as one text.)

Harris’ behavior is not unusual. The number of texts that teens are sending has hit an all-time high across the nation. In 2011, the median number of texts sent on a typical day by teens ages 12 to 17 rose to 60. Much of the increase was among those ages 14 to 17, who went from a median of 60 texts a day in 2009 to a median of 100 two years later.

And, older girls like Harris remain the most enthusiastic texters, with a median of 100 texts a day last year, compared with 50 for boys the same age.

Harris said that for teens today, it’s “mostly about time management.”

“Most of the time, I’m busy, and so if I’m in the middle of doing something and don’t want to take time to stop, call, have a conversation, it’s just easier to send a quick message and wait for them to respond when they can,” she said.

“It’s a privacy thing, too,” she said, referring to awkward times when teens might not want to have an oral conversation, particularly about sensitive subjects, in earshot of others — especially adults.

“It’s just handy; we’re not being anti-social,” she said. “It’s a convenience. Adults think we don’t talk in person at all, but that’s not true. It truly is nothing to worry about.”

Madison Lewis, 16, a student at St. Mary’s-Colgan High School in Pittsburg, Kan., agrees.

“To text them, it’s easier,” said Lewis, who said she is more outgoing than her twin sister. “I don’t always like to talk on the phone a lot; texting is faster and easier. I might ask them if it is a ‘blue day’ or ‘white day’ at school, or ask them where practice is, and just need a one- or two-word answer.”

After school, she texts friends “just to see what’s up, or if they want to hang out.”

Her sister, McKenzie, who described herself as more shy and less apt to talk, said she also texts less often — maybe 50 texts a day — and “would rather hear a voice” if she has to communicate with someone.

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