Teens and cellphones: Tips for parents

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 7:45 p.m. MST

Just how addicted are teens to their beloved cellphones? According to Mashable, a study by TextPlus, a free messaging app for smartphones, found that half of the 600 teens surveyed said they "couldn't live without their mobile devices for a week, while 36 percent said they weren't able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones."

Teens who are addicted to their phones go through similar withdrawals as those addicted to drugs or alcohol, according to research related in an article on Total Health Magazine.

"Cellphones, like drugs or alcohol, may act on the reward centers of the brain which contain opiate receptors," the researchers said. "When the brain gets its perceived reward — whether it's heroin, chocolate or the fun of texting 2,000 times a month on average — it wants a do-over, again and again and again. Suddenly, a behavior is born."

Pro: A learning tool

Responsible parents who use their cellphones wisely may already know ways their teens can use cellphones as learning tools. The apps available for smartphones seem to be endless, but some apps can come in handy and help teens in many ways.

An article on 12most.com called "12 Most Useful Ways Kids Can Learn With Cellphones" explains how teens can use apps for help with homework or other school-related projects.

One app, Voki, allows a teen to record his voice, after which the avatar he chooses repeats his speech using the teen's own voice. It's a tool that can help in preparing for public speaking at school, for instance.

With another app, TextNovel, teens can write fiction or nonfiction stories and share what they have written with others. They can receive feedback and encouragement for improving their writing skills.

Con: Decreases communication skills

A long-running debate focuses on whether communicating through texting is affecting teens' communication skills. In a study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 63 percent of teens surveyed said they use texting to communicate with others every day, compared with 35 percent of teens who said they socialize with others in person outside of school on a daily basis.

In an article from the Huffington Post, experts say the best communicators will have the ability to talk and text in the appropriate settings. These experts also worry teens are losing the ability to have "face-to-face conversations that are vital in the workplace and personal relationships."

There is nothing wrong with casual conversations and having fun through texting, according to communication experts. The problem is that the conversations aren't too deep, and deep conversations help build important communication skills.

Joseph Grenny, co-author of the book "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High," says in the Huffington Post article that this problem has existed ever since phones have existed.

"We loathe having crucial conversations. We are paralyzed and do what we can to avoid them," Grenny says. The article goes on to say texting allows teens to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Another problem many parents fear is that texting is affecting their teens' writing skills. Joanna Schiferl, mother of 13-year-old Anna, says her daughter "tends to rush her writing and pays less attention to grammar, or uses abbreviations she'd use in a text," according to the Huffington Post story.

Experts quoted in the article say the key to avoiding these problems is to "recognize your weak point and work on developing a wide range of communication skills."

"People with a more flexible style, whether they're communicators in person or through technology, will have an easier time adapting," says Renee Houston, an associate professor of communication studies at the University of Puget Sound in Washington, in the article.

Kylie Lewis is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and does other feature articles. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.

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