I read recently several blog posts that were criticizing teen texting behavior referring to it as "alienating" and "detached". However the crisis lines and helplines that use PreventionPays are reporting data that suggests the opposite is true. Teens use texting to connect with others. In the hotline industry if you can find the courage to ask for help it doesn't matter whether you speak it or write it. What matters is that you take that incredibly difficult first step.
I grew up in the 80s when every teenager had to have their own personal landline. My sister and her friends would literally get on the phone the moment they got home from school and not hang up until they passed out. My dad would try all sorts of tricks to get her off the phone to no avail. He even disconnected the line from time to time as a form of punishment because if he grounded her, she'd just be on the phone racking up a massive bill. Talking on the phone does not teach teens how to read people's emotions. So the argument that writing rather than speaking is any less intimate is inherently flawed. I suspect the telephone dependent teens of the 80s and 90s had the same critics. But they turned out okay and I doubt they're any less empathetic. We could all use more empathy but I doubt very much our capacity for feeling empathy is hindered by texting.
In fact, there has always been a need to communicate and for those who text it's the most intimate form available to them. They use text to illicit empathy. Studies have shown that written and verbal skills actually increase with texting and, contrary to popular opinion, they don't rely on short hand nearly as much as people think. In our crisis textline evaluations, most text conversations use full sentences. In fact most youth using the services are very well-spoken and able to distill complex emotions into eloquent, well-composed verse. There is absolutely nothing detached about it. Their texts are soul-searching and succinct, terse and poignant. They are putting their feelings into words, a quality that eludes many of us. Depicting loneliness is no easy task. And doing it in 160 characters is virtually impossible. If you don't believe me, try it. Today's teens are incredibly capable young adults with enormous ideas and an uncanny ability to convey those ideas with complete clarity. They are using text as their canvas and we should be applauding, rather than criticizing them.
For more information about texting services for public health (health departments, crisis lines, helplines and 211s) visit us at PreventionPaysText