Special Report: Generation Text
MONTREAL—Eighteen-year-old Sara McGuinn is a typical teen, who texts at the table, texts while she talks and texts while she walks.
McGuinn says she can even text with her eyes closed. A skill she picked up at school to keep her phone from being confiscated.
“You’re just so into your iPhone, you have to text back you can't just let it ring and not answer, you have to,” said McGuinn.
Go to any school and you'll see a lot of students like McGuinn.
“I'm actually addicted to my cell phone,” said Shenice, who claims to send 5,000 texts per month. What does she text about: “What I'm doing, what I'm going to do, what I plan to do.”
Her mom is at the point where she has to text her daughter if she wants to talk with her and it drives her nuts.
“When she's eating, she's texting; when she's in bed, she's texting; when she goes to the washroom, she's texting,” said Shenice’s mother, who wonders if all the messages are bad for her daughter.
There are no definitive studies on how much is too much, but some professionals believe it can lead to problems. For one: concentration.
“They're not learning how to focus on one thing, they're not learning how to block out the phone,“ said psychologist Harriet Greenstone.
Another example is Daniel Tiger, an honour student and an avid texter.
“It's happened before where I've been in the middle of a conversation and I've gotten a text and have completely forgotten my trail of thought,” said Tiger.
Another concern is that it could be hurting their social skills.
“They don't learn how to make eye contact. They don't learn how to focus, how to show ‘I hear what you're saying,’” said Corrie Sirota, a clinical social worker for the Cappino Wellness Centre.
Sirota talks to teens about how to use technology wisely. She worries all that texting has taken the place of real conversation.
“What do we need most to grow up healthy? We need to feel connectedness and I think the Internet and cell phones give us a false sense of connectedness. Talking to people face-to-face gives us a sense of belonging,” said Sirota.
But her biggest pet peeve is what all this texting is doing to manners. She sees people, of all ages, who pay more attention to their phones than to the people in front of them.
“What are we teaching our kids about respect,” asks Sirota. “I think it's a disaster for manners.”
Maybe texting is just the latest high tech generation gap. In the 70s it was too much time in front of the television and in the 80s it was videogames.
Some psychologists do worry that many teens are so tied to the phone they're just not enjoying the moment. Take Taylor Greenstein, between skating moves she actually goes back to the bench to make sure she hasn't missed a text.
“I kind of feel like I don't even notice that I'm texting, in a way,” said Greenstein.
Many experts now suggest limiting text time, an example would be banning texts from the dinner table or while doing homework. Greenstone says the biggest family blowouts these days are when a parent takes away a cell phone.
“They freak out, they become aggressive, and they have outburst that's how you know they're on it too much,” said Greenstone.
The reason for the attachment is that for many, their cell phone is their lifeline.
“If it's not with me I feel really empty,” said McGuinn.
There was one thing that made McGuinn hang-up, at least for a few days. She got cut off because she wasn't able to pay a $700 bill.
“Oh my gawd, I wanted to cry,” said McGuinn. Those tears dried up fast and she's back to her old ways—only now with an unlimited data plan and an insatiable appetite to text.