Texting may prop up English grades

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 29, 2010

At what age do you get your child his first cell phone?

That question has been running circles in my head in recent days due to the fact my seven-month old will do anything to get his tiny little hands on my iPhone.

Whether it is the bright colorful screen, the moving images or just the fact that it’s his dad’s toy, Gibson locks his attention onto the device and goes straight for it whenever he spots it in the house.

In those rare instances that he actually grabs onto the phone, Gibson seems to already know what to do with the thing. He rubs his fingers across the screen and watches words and images scroll with his fingertips. He giggles when he accidentally gets the phone to make a noise.

I can imagine him picking up the phone any day and tapping out the message, “Dad can i hav 1 of thz plz.”

It is only when he picks up the phone and attempts to gnaw on the corner of the device that I realize I have a few years to go before I actually have to decide when Gibson needs a real phone.

Yet, if I believe a recent study of children and text messaging, I should be trying to get a cell phone in my child’s hands as soon as possible.

A British study released last week came to some surprising conclusions about children and text messaging.

The study of children between the ages of 8 and 12 concluded that the more children learned to text the greater their literacy skills.

Texting is epidemic among teenagers. So too is the abbreviated language they use when sending messages back and forth.

If u can read this msg then u no wht I mean, lol.

Conventional wisdom among teachers and parents is that such “textisms” are destroying children’s ability to write coherently. This study funded by the British Academy turns such conventional wisdom on its head.

Researchers compared children’s text messaging with scores in a series of verbal reasoning tests. They discovered that the children who sent large numbers of text messages outperformed in reading tests the students who rarely texted at all.

Students who used abbreviations in their messages tended to do better on their school spelling tests.

It turns out that children familiar with texting were able to detect, isolate and manipulate patterns of sound in speech at a high level.

Texting also appeared to give children the opportunity to practice their reading and spelling skills on a daily basis.

As to the prevalent use of textisms, researchers concluded that using non-conventional abbreviations required detailed knowledge of how the written language works. In other words, to break the rules you have to know the rules.

Perhaps the most amazing conclusion from the study is that the earlier a child uses a cell phone for texting the better. According to the study children as young as 5 years old received benefits from texting.

Five-years old? Are you kidding me.

When I was 5 years old I was more concerned about snack time and when mom was going to pick up from kindergarten.

Are you telling me that in a little less than four years I may be getting a text message from my son like, “dad skl waz gr8. Can we get iscrm plz?”

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3550 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.