Survey: Teen Texting Reaching Critical Mass

Parents, Teachers Nudging Their Way Onto Teenage Touchscreens

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NEW YORK ( -- Educators' ongoing battle against cellphones may be a losing one -- at least if the results of a new student survey are any indication.

It won't come as a surprise to parents of teenagers, but a recent survey conducted by the free mobile text messaging app textPlus shows that teens not only are habitually text messaging with parents and friends in class, but most of them don't even feel guilty about it.

Some 43% of the teens surveyed (637 in total) admitted to texting during class. Of those, 17% said they did so "constantly," and more than half fessed up to chatting with other students in the same classroom.

While this may sound like overkill, textPlus Director of Community Drew Olanoff says it's nothing new. "It's the new equivalent of passing notes, and that's happened forever," Mr. Olanoff said. "Texting is the preferred method of communication for teens, and this is just how they're integrating it into their daily lives."

Only 26% of the teens surveyed feel they're in the wrong for texting during class -- and why should they? Nearly 80% of students say they've never been busted for texting, and two-thirds allege their parents are guilty of texting them during the day, too.

Mr. Olanoff said this parent-student communication is largely for utility -- "Do you have football tonight? What do you want for dinner?" -- and it makes sense for these purposes. "'When I'm coming home' is not a 20-minute conversation, it's a two-second text," Mr. Olanoff said. "If a parent says to a kid, 'If you're going to be late, text me and let me know,' they'll probably do it. Parents know that."

Though many districts enforce blanket bans on cellphone use on campus, some schools are trying new ways to harness the communication power for good. In May, AOL News profiled Katie Titler, a Spanish teacher at Pulaski High School in Pulaski, Wis. who turns her students' cellphones (and their fervent use of them) into a tool for interactive classroom activities.

After parents fill out permission slips designating how their child's phone can be used, students can use their devices to record and submit their spoken compositions and work in groups to text responses to group polls, which are instantly displayed on the board anonymously.

This school year is Ms. Titler's third integrating cellphones into her class activities, and she said the results have been wholly positive. "I want to prepare kids for 21st century," Titler told Ad Age Wednesday. "I want them to be able to communicate the way they would in real life." Ms. Titler said the most common concern she faces is from parents whose kids don't have cellphones and who are worried they won't be able to participate, but she has extras for class use. Plus, it's not very common; she said in her last class of freshmen, only four to five students (out of 26-30) didn't have cellphones. In her current classes of sophomores and juniors, that number is whittled down to one to two.

There are still concerns about cheating, though. According to the textPlus survey, 22% of teens said they've texted answers to classmates to bail them out of tough questions posed by teachers. A full 20% said they themselves have benefited from such an exchange.

Mr. Olanoff said the responsibility falls on parents and teachers to not fight off advancing technology, but to train students on how to use it appropriately. "The snap reaction [amongst educators] is, 'Texting is evil! Banned!'" he said. "Rather than teaching that texting is horrible, set some up some [rules of] etiquette."

As far as cheating is concerned, Ms. Titler doesn't blame the devices. "If they're not using cellphones, they'll use something else, as they always have," she said. "But I've found that they don't seem to be as much of a distraction. I think when they get to use them in class, they're not using them as much for other stuff."

She said though her school's policy of confiscation when cellphones are abused in class still stands, and the right course of action varies from school to school, her school's more lenient stance is one that could be successful in other districts. "[Texting] is such a part of daily life for people," she said. "Even if you try keep it out, it'll come into play sooner or later."

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