Teens’ text-messaging habits are legion. They send thousands upon thousands of texts per month, and every once in a while, some unfortunate parents make the headlines when they get a bill in the mail for thousands upon thousands of dollars in texting charges.

The increasing use of text-messaging by teens – and increasingly often, by younger children – has given some people cause for concern. They argue that the abbreviations used in texting are detrimental to literacy development. Spelling, grammar, phrasing – these are all somehow poised to suffer, critics of texting contend, because of the use of shortened words and sentences. Soon, they predict, students’ essays will be filled with LOLs and L8Rs.

But a new study from Coventry University finds no evidence that having access to mobile phones harms children’s literacy skills. In fact, the research suggests that texting abbreviations or “textisms” may actually aid reading, writing and spelling skills.

The research, set to be published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning next month, examined the impact of text-messaging on 9- and 10-year-olds. The study recruited 114 children for the study, none of whom had previously used a mobile phone. Half of the group were given access to a mobile phone.

Better Spelling Through Texting?

Based on a series of reading and spelling tests, researchers found a “significant contribution of textism use to the children’s spelling development during the study.” The study made it clear that it wasn’t the access to the phone per se, or even the text-messaging as much as specifically the use of textisms that aided the development. The reason, writes Dr. Clare Wood, one of the authors of the study, “is partly explained by the highly phonetic nature of the textisms that are popular within this age group, as the phonological and alphabetic awareness that is required for the construction and decoding of these textisms also underpin successful reading development.”

It’s also possible, the researchers add, that textisms add value because they are “another way in which students are exposed to print outside of school.” And while sure, it’s not the same as having students exposed to “great works of literature” on the weekends, it looks like texting is a good influence nonetheless.

audrey watters

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