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Is text-speak hurting kids' writing skills?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

OMG! I c what u mean!

Recently my older son had to send an email to an administrator at his school. With his brother on the family computer, I let him use my laptop. He sent the email and jumped up to do some other things. Hours later, flipping around applications, I realized he'd left his email account open on my system and right there was his email to the school administrator - all in text speak. Not a capital letter or piece of punctuation to be seen, and the well-known abbreviations throughout. If I didn't know what I was looking at, I'd have thought my son was illiterate!

Tween boy on computer

I was shocked and embarrassed. And I felt like I'd failed a little. I'm a communicator by profession and here I'd failed to communicate about appropriate communication to my own son. I know he'd learned all these basics in school - and done well on the exams. A little remedial work on respect and letter and email writing - and appropriate communication - was in order.

A slang for every generation

Every generation has it's slang; for our kids, it seems to be text speak - the abbreviations and "grammar" meant to minimize character use and boost speed in inputting the message. It's quick and dirty language (I won't say "English" or any other actual language) that serves a specific purpose. It has evolved as electronic communication has evolved.

I respect that part of it. Kids through the ages have developed their own ways of talking with each other, often their exclusive domain until the grown ups figure it out and start using it. Then moving on to a new way. It's one of the ways they set themselves apart from those that came before them, and a way to declare a level of independence from the adult world.

But that doesn't make it okay to use it when communicating with that adult world.

Literacy and respect

My son and I had a long (albeit one-sided) discussion about communicating respectfully with those around him. We - well, I - talked about how one communicates differently with his friends than with his grandmother than with his cousins than with the neighbors than with teachers and others.

If he wants to communicate with his friends in text-speak, fine. Even with his cousins. But adults - anyone in a position of authority, really - deserves the respect of literate, respectful communication. Especially school officials! These are people who are evaluating his overall growth and understanding of academic subjects, and spelling, capitalization and grammar is most definitely an academic subject. Most of all, I tried to convey that when in doubt, more formal is better than informal.

I can't stand text speak in day-to-day life, but I know we'll never be rid of it. Better to help our kids know that there's a time and a place for everything. u no wht i mean?

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