Teenage years are a turbulent time of learning independence, developing social skills and experiencing sexuality and romance. Teens face peer groups pressure and have no micro guidance from parents. Texting is an important social communication channel for teens, giving the opportunity for anxiety free communication with the opposite sex. This study in Journal of Children and Media explores teenager's use of text, language differences between sexes and overall gender identity.
The authors conducted 9 focus groups of 12-18 year olds across 4 US cities to broadly investigate teen communications via mobiles. How do teens use them to negotiate the choppy waters of "flirt, hook-up and break-up"? Gender segregated groups completed questionnaires on issues of phone ownership, parental interaction and girl/boy communications. Interestingly, historical differences in use of language in males and females were shown to resonate in girls and boys texting styles. Boys view phones as a status symbol to perform a basic function; they are direct and rapid in their conversations, make their arrangements and go. One boy noted that to be texting another "dude" was not okay, implying that long text conversations are for girls only. Another boy claimed that girls' texts were "just BS." Girls undeniably like to chat, socialise and enhance their conversations with smiley faces etc. and clearly see texting as a way of building and maintaining friendships. Intriguingly male participants acknowledge that when texting girls, they "play the game." In other words boys step outside their usual style and use more emotive text to please girls and to avoid hurt feelings or misinterpretations.
12-17 year olds send or receive an average of 60 texts per day. Texting is a significant communication channel for teens and, the authors note an important area for study of gender identity and cross gender interaction. Boys seek social acceptance from girls using text and the ability to edit the conversation in private undoubtedly makes it easier. On the other hand, potential for misunderstanding and disagreement is high. The study showed that texting seems not to challenge traditional gender identities but the authors conclude "It is in these texts, the teens are working out their notions of gender and how to interact with people of the opposite gender." It appears if we are to understand our teenagers, we need to acknowledge the pivotal importance of texting in the social life of a teen.
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