In today’s digital age, practically everyone owns a cell phone. People have ditched their landline phones and have opted for cellular devices, specifically smartphones where they can text faster than ever before. But texting may not always be the best way to convey your thoughts. Many parents and educators are worried that “text lingo” is harming their children’s literacy skills. Is any of this true?

Afraid of “text lingo”

The first text message was sent in 1993 on a Nokia cell phone. Back then, the text message was short, sweet and to the point with a limit of 160 characters. But today, texting allows friends to converse freely and say as much as they want. However, texting also allows people to send abbreviated words (“lol,” “TGIF,” “gr8,” etc.) in order to send messages at a faster rate.

This “text lingo” is concerning to parents and educators, who are worried that the use of abbreviations, most frequently “ur” for “your,” is harming one’s literacy skills. In 2009, psychology researcher Dr. Michelle Drouin conducted a study on the relationship between “text speak” and literacy. She studied 80 college students to determine if texting was harming their ability to use and remember standard English spelling and grammar skills they learned in grade school. More than half of the students were already concerned that texting was harming their writing; therefore, they wanted answers.

Luckily, the study showed no significant changes in literacy scores or spelling between texters and non-texters. The study also determined that texters know the difference between occasions where it’s appropriate to use “text lingo,” like in casual conversations with friends, and when it’s not acceptable, like in an email to your college professor or employer.

Despite this study, people are still concerned about the dangers of texting. That’s why 10 years later, in 2019, researchers returned to the study for a more up-to-date version. What they learned might shock some educators.

Omitting important words

Starting in 2016, researchers from Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam have been conducting new studies on the effects of texting on grammar and spelling skills for children ages 10 to 13 years old. They also sought to determine if texting impacts necessary functions, like attention control, working memory, and planning.

Collecting 55 text messages, researchers discovered texters are omitting important words in their sentences. For example, one text message read: “Start to wonder whether am really good friend.” Instead, the text message should grammatically read: “I start to wonder whether I am a really good friend.” Did the original text message make sense? Yes, but was it grammatically correct? Absolutely not, but maybe, just maybe, that’s okay.

As it turns out, omitting words isn’t as harmful as you would think. Researchers discovered that the more words children removed from their text messages, the better they scored on a grammar test. Researchers realized skilled texters use their knowledge of grammar to decide which words are okay to omit from their text messages. They analyze their text messages before sending, quickly determining which words are unnecessary. In addition, the use of abbreviations, like “gr8” and “IRL,” have also improved children’s vocabulary, grammar, and selective attention scores.

Texting is okay

Parents might be concerned about texting, but it’s okay. Utrecht University and the University of Amsterdam researchers also learned that texting doesn’t negatively impact a child’s brain functions. They can still think properly and retain information at the same rate as someone who doesn’t text frequently. However, if you’re still concerned over your child’s texting usage, monitor their grammar and spelling skills. Look for any warning signs if they insert “text lingo” in their school papers. Teach them at a young age that schoolwork is still formal writing, not slang. Once they learn the difference, they’ll know to save the abbreviated language for when they’re talking and laughing out loud [or simply “lol”] with their friends.