The intent of this research is to better understand school social workers’ perceptions of how text messaging affects adolescents’ communication skills. The findings from this study help contribute to a better understanding of social workers’ perceptions of text messaging and its effects on adolescent communication skills. The discussion compares and contrasts the existing literature with the results of this study.
Communication with School Social Workers
Communication with school social workers is discussed in three subthemes: convenience, bullying and teasing, and emergency situations.
Convenience. Within the third subtheme that addressed texting communication with school social workers, convenience, the findings are supported by the research literature (e.g., Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (2008) state that texting and instant messaging can be a way for parents to keep track of their adolescents. In the present study, texting is seen by respondents as a way for social workers to quickly contact a student or have a student contact them in a way that is familiar to them. Convenience is relevant for social workers connecting with students because texting is the preferred method for communication for adolescents. This is an area of research that could be further explored to give school social workers the necessary tools to be able to connect with students in a more convenient and relevant way.
Bullying and teasing. Within the second subtheme that addressed texting communication with social workers, bullying and teasing, the findings are supported in the literature by Mate (2012). The research literature states that sexting can be seen as a form of bullying. (Mate, 2012) finds that 51% of adolescent girls stated they feel pressure from boys to send explicit messages. Participants stated that texting happens 24/7 and that text bullying/sexting can happen at any hour, when parents may not be around to witness it.
Respondents note that face-to-face communication is more intimidating than texting for adolescents. Therefore, it may be easier for a bully to send something over a text rather than to interact face-to-face. The majority of the participants in the present study mention bullying and teasing multiple times throughout the interview process as a negative effect of text messaging. School social workers can help students respond appropriately and deal with bullying and teasing through text messaging.
Emergency situations. Within the first subtheme that addressed texting and communication with school social workers, emergency situations, the findings are supported by the research literature (e.g., Selkie et al., 2011) For example, the study findings of Selkie et al. (2011) suggest that adolescents’ use of text messaging offers this age group quick and easy access to reliable information. Similarly, in this study, school social workers describe adolescents’ use of text messaging to reach out for help in emergency situations or to access information. Findings from Selkie et al.’s (2011) study suggest that adolescents prefer to have information that was trustworthy, accessible, and safe. Adolescents who participated in Selkie et al.’s research stated that use of text messaging could offer them quick and easy access to reliable information. The study identified sensitive information, such as that about sexual health, as a type of information adolescents may seek via text messaging. In the present study, the majority of participants mentioned that text messaging could be used as a way for adolescents to reach out for help in emergency situations.
Communication with Peers
Texting’s effect on peer communication is discussed in three subthemes: inappropriate connections, face-to-face connections, and connections at school. These findings are supported by the literature (Durkin et al., 2010; Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008), which states that texting has become a way to maintain friendships because of accessibility.
Inappropriate connections. Within the first subtheme that addressed texting’s effect on peer communication, inappropriate connections, the findings in this study are supported by previous literature e.g., (Wolfson & Carskadon, 2003), which indicates strong correlations between shortened and interrupted sleep time because of texting and poor academic performance. Adolescents do not get adequate amounts of sleep because of late-night unsupervised texting that could include sexting and bullying. As a result of the late night texting students are unable to perform well in school. Similarly, in the present study, the presence of inappropriate connections such as sexting and bullying is mentioned by the majority of respondents. The majority of participants stated the use of text messaging could contribute to inappropriate connections among peers, such as sending photos, sexting, texting and driving, and unrestricted and unsupervised use of texting at all hours. All present participants note that adolescents may not understand the larger implications or the public nature of text messaging.
Face-to-face connections. Within the second subtheme that addressed texting’s effect on peer communication, face-to-face connections, the findings in this study are supported by the research literature (e.g., Besel & Yuille, 2010; Riordon & Kreuz, 2010), where the importance of face-to-face communication and facial recognition among adolescents is discussed. This indicates that those who had difficulty reading facial expressions also had impaired social understanding. In addition, Riordan and Kreuz’s (2010) research emphasizes the importance of eye contact and vocal intonation in effective communication. School social workers can help students develop appropriate eye contact and vocal intonation in order for them to be able to have effective face-to-face communication.
Present participants expressed concern regarding the loss of face-to-face and voice-to- voice communication among adolescents. Bowlby’s (1969) research literature states that facial expression, posture, and tone of voice are all instrumental to developing healthy attachment communications. The importance of face-to-face communication was mentioned by a majority of the participants in the present study. They felt texting was causing adolescents to lose face-to-face connections with people in their lives because of the constant use of texting.
Connections at school. Within the third subtheme that addressed texting’s effect on peer communication, connections at school, the finding was not supported by previous literature. Participants viewed texting at school as a way for shy kids to connect with each other or for students to ask each other about homework. The literature mentions Reich’s (2008) findings, which reveal that texting has become a medium for teaching and for students to be able to participate more. Participants in this research project did not mention texting as a learning tool in the classroom but rather as a distraction. One participant noted feeling amazement that students were able to concentrate on their schoolwork at all with the constant interruptions from text messages. Previous literature, including Harley et al. (2007), finds that text communication provides students with networks of social support within their academic system. Present participants mentioned that some coaches use text messaging to remind players about practice. The discrepancy may have been due to the participants’ individual schools policies on texting in class. Texting is generally not allowed during class time in many schools. This is an area of research that could be further explored to pursue the possibilities text messaging could offer for enhancing students’ experiences in the school setting such as a way to include more students in class discussions.
Communication with Family
Effects of texting on communication with the family are discussed in two subthemes: enhanced communication and decreased communication.
Enhanced communication. Within the first subtheme that addressed texting’s effect on family communication, enhances communication, these findings are not supported by the current research within this area of study. The majority of the participants in the present study (n = 6) stated that texting enhanced communication between parents and children. They see texting as a quick and easy way to exchange information. The ease of use and convenience allow for more connections between parents and children.
Decreased communication. The second subtheme that addressed texting’s effect on family communication, decreased communication, is supported by the literature (e.g., Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). For example, findings from Subrahmanyam and Greenfield’s (2008) research suggest that texting and other electronic forms of communication have become all-encompassing, to the detriment of face-to-face family interaction, among siblings as well as parents. Adolescents screen calls from parents, and they interrupt family time with use of electronic communication. One participant in the present study mentioned that texting was actually contributing to families not connecting with each other. The use of texting could decrease connections between family members by limiting the amount of interaction with each other.
The main theme of skills is discussed in four subthemes: deficit of skill development, avoidance, conflict, and application to life skills.
Deficits in skill development. Within the first subtheme that addressed skills, deficit of skill development, the findings are supported by the research literature (e.g., Durkin et al., 2010; Lenhart et al., 2008). For example, in Lenhart’s (2008) study, half of the adolescent respondents questioned admitted to using informal writing styles and text abbreviations in school assignments. In the current research, participants felt that adolescents’ spelling and grammar were affected by the use of shortened language and symbols. Participants suggested that writing skills were being compromised by the use of texting.
Novak’s (2002) research states that language development is also affected by texting. Adolescents’ developmental skills are affected by text messaging, specifically their ability to understand abstract meanings of words or concepts and their ability to modify their communication to fit the listener’s viewpoint. In the research by Conti-Ramsdent et al.
(2011), texting is found to be potentially intimidating to some students who are specifically language impaired. The current research indicates that more than half of school social workers interviewed felt that language development was affected in some way by the use of text messaging. They noted that adolescents’ specific grammatical language development was affected by the use of texting.
Avoidance. Within the second subtheme that addressed skills, avoidance, the findings are supported by the research literature (e.g., Pierce, 2009), which states that interactive technology enables users to avoid face-to-face communication. The role of social anxiety and not feeling comfortable was the reason for avoidance through texting. This was confirmed within the present study when half of the participants stated during their interviews that texting contributed to adolescents’ avoidance of communication in face-to-face situations such as asking for assistance or avoiding conflict with others. Participants specifically acknowledged that students avoid certain situations through the use of texting. Adolescents may find it easier to call into their job through a text or simply not answer or ignore a text that may be bothersome.
Conflict. Within the third subtheme that addressed skills, conflict, the findings are supported by the research literature (e.g., Riordan & Kreuz, 2010), which suggests that the more emoticons a message contained, the stronger the recipients interpreted the sender’s emotions. However, when texts were sent without emoticons, recipients could not determine the sender’s intentions. This suggests the possibility for conflict to arise because of misinterpretation. This was confirmed within the present study when participants felt the
adolescents were not developmentally able to understand the connection between texting and possible negative outcomes of their texting. The misrepresentation or misunderstanding of text messages among peers was mentioned in the present study as a way for conflict to arise. Without the means to effectively express emotion through text messaging misunderstandings can easily occur.
Application to life skills. Within the fourth subtheme that addressed skills, application to life skills, the research literature (e.g., Grinter et al., 2009; Ho & McLeod, 2008) supports the findings and states that texting impacts social skills in a variety of ways. It is important to understand the internal processes that take place during adolescence to further explain the prevalence of texting among adolescents. Participants in the present study perceived texting as detrimental to adolescents and their ability to gain fundamental life skills for adulthood. All participants stated that adolescents engaged in text messaging to avoid feeling uncomfortable and to avert conflict situations. All seven respondents believed texting hindered adolescents’ development in one of the four subthemes.
The fifth main theme was life comparisons, with two subthemes that emerged: my life and their life. The subthemes were a comparison of the quality of life now and when the participants were growing up, reminiscing that maybe their way was a better way.
My life. Within the first subtheme addressing life comparisons, my life, the findings were not supported by the research literature. The majority of participants in the current study referenced their upbringing and how they benefited from growing up without texting. Participants reflected on their lives during the interviews.
Their life. Within the second subtheme addressing life comparisons, their life, the findings were not supported by the research literature. Participants in the current study mentioned why texting made life harder than it was when they grew up without texting. Erik
Erikson’s perspective is reflected in the life comparisons theme. Erikson’s stage eight (late adulthood), integrity vs. despair, states that individuals reflect on their own life experiences and whether their life was meaningful, much as the present participants did. However, adolescents in stage five of Erik Erikson’s stages are more grounded in identity vs. role confusion, when adolescents are trying to figure out who they are (Erikson, 1968; Hutchinson, 2008).
Strengths and Limitations
One strength of this current study is that it employs a qualitative research method.
This allows participants to convey, in their own words, their firsthand experiences in their work with adolescents. This allows for rich data because of the use of unedited interviews with participants. This study includes participants in the research as much as possible in order to make it a collaborative and meaningful process for both researcher and participants.
One limitation of this study was the small sample size. This was caused by the limited data base and sampling method employed by the researcher. The evidence based research is mainly focused on social media such as Facebook, MySpace and other Internet services. A limitation is the lack of text-specific, evidence-based literature to further validate the research.
Implications for Future Social Work Practice
The implications for future social work practice are exciting because of the advantageous position school social workers have as the eyes and ears on what happens in adolescent lives. School social workers, are the professionals who often instigate and facilitate the communication process in the lives of adolescents. They are often on the front lines when it comes to observing adolescents’ lives. Educating social workers on the effects of texting prepares them to understand the challenges adolescents face in their daily lives, in particular with regard to their communication methods and skills.
It is important for social workers to understand how big a role texting plays in the lives of adolescents. Grinter et al. (2009) research states that adolescents are connecting with their peers through SMS. Many adolescents have grown up with much of their lives being public knowledge because of the expansion of technology-based communication. Adolescents’ boundaries in regard to the information they share about themselves are very different compared to those their parents held while growing up. It is crucial for social workers to understand the implications texting has for adolescent relationships in order to be able to relate to and understand the issues adolescents face today. Selkie et al., (2009) states technology based communication can be a way for adolescents to obtain reliable information about sensitive issues.
School social workers should be aware of the possible benefits texting could have in connecting with students in emergency situations, or in providing reliable information that students might not seek in a face-to-face meeting. Texting could help social workers contact students they might not be able to reach using more traditional methods. Social workers should to be open to the possibilities texting can bring to student relationships, but also cautious with regard to personal boundaries.
Implications for Future Research
This current study reveals areas for future research that would be beneficial to improved understanding how text messaging affects adolescent communication skills. There is a clear need for text-specific, evidence-based research in the areas of how texting affects adolescents’ communication skills, development, and relationships. Ho and McLeod (2008) examined adolescents’ reluctance to express opinions face-to-face. An understanding of the internal processes that take place during adolescence and their relationship to the popularity of texting may be beneficial.
The majority of respondents mentioned that texting affected family and peer relationships both positively and negatively. Future research on how texting affects peer and family relationships would be beneficial. It would be wise for future researchers to interview parents and adolescents to gain a sense of how texting is directly affecting their lives. Grinter et al. (2009) stated that the new challenges SMS and IM add to the domestic communication will influence further research and how this information is gathered and analyzed. Gathering qualitative interviews from parents and adolescents would be beneficial to understanding how texting affects family relationships.
Implications for Future Policy
One implication for future policy that was brought to this researcher’s attention was the lack of literature being published in peer-reviewed journals that is specific to both texting and adolescents. Successful completion of the developmental stage of adolescence is crucial for adulthood and the prevalence and availability of texting in adolescents’ lives speaks to the importance of research-based information in this area. Therefore literature specific to texting and adolescents would be beneficial.
This research study explored the important topic of how school social workers perceive the impacts of text messaging on adolescent communication skills. It establishes that text messaging impacts adolescents’ communication skills in many ways. Seven school social workers interviewed for this study shared their experience communicating with adolescents and how text messaging has become more prevalent. Adolescents communicate with school social workers, peers, and parents by texting. Text messaging can be a helpful tool for emergency situations and can be detrimental to developing social skills. Awareness and understanding of the impact text messaging has on adolescent lives are necessary in order for social workers to support adolescent development. It is also necessary for developing an understanding of how adolescents are communicating with each other. Human interaction plays a vital role in human development, and although texting has changed the way we interact, we need to be aware that the changes are not all negative. Texting has allowed for more possibilities for interaction and supporting adolescent development. The support school social workers give students is different in that it may not always be face-to-face or about traditional face-to- face relationships but support can be about and delivered through texting.
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Appendix A: Informed Consent
How Has Text Messaging Influenced Adolescents’ Communication and Social Skills in
RESEARCH INFORMATION AND CONSENT FORM
Introduction: You are invited to participate in a research study that aims to explore how the text messaging has impacted adolescent communication skills. This study is being conducted by Jacquie Graham a Master of Social Work Student at University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University. You were selected as a possible participant because you are over the age of 18, and are a current licensed social worker that interacts professionally with the adolescents in grades 9-12. Please review this form and ask any questions you may have before consenting to participation in this study.
Background Information: The purpose of this study is to examine how text messaging affects adolescent communication skills. Approximately eight to 10 people are expected to participate in this study.
Procedures: If you choose to participate in this study, you will be asked to do a one-one interview with me in person or over the phone that takes approximately 45-60 minutes. You will have the option to receive the complete schedule of interview questions, letter of introduction, and consent form prior to the scheduled interview time. If you do not feel comfortable or do not want to answer any particular question you may skip that question. Our meeting will take place in private area, such as an office, and will be decided through a collaborative process between you and the researcher. For purposes of transcription the interview will be audio recorded, and the audio recording will only be accessible to me as the researcher. You confidentiality and privacy are my highest concern; therefore audio recordings will be kept in a locked location at my home and will be destroyed at the end of my research project on June 1, 2012. During our interview I will read the interview questions, and may ask some follow up questions depending on your answers. You may terminate participation in the study at any point within the interview and up to one week after completion of the interview by contacting me through e-mail or phone.
Risks and Benefits to Participation: There are minimal risks associated with participation in this study. Benefits of participating in this study would be making a contribution to the research regarding how texting affects adolescents’ communication skills.
Confidentiality: Care will be taken to protect all of your information and ensure your confidentiality. There will no identifying information given in any written report or oral presentation of this study. As previously mentioned, only this researcher will handle and transcribe information gathered from the interview process. In addition all information will be kept locked and in password protected files in the researchers home and computer. All information gathered from your participation will also be destroyed at the completion of this research project on June 1, 2013.
If at any point during the interview process you want to skip questions you may do so. If at any point, up to one week following the scheduled interview, you wish to terminate your participation in the study you may do so. If during the interview you express emotional or physical distress the interview process will be ended, we will debrief, and then connect you with one of the resources listed previously. In this particular case, your information and data will be destroyed immediately and will not be used in this study.
Voluntary Nature of Study: Participation in this study is completely voluntary. Your decision to participate in this study or not will not affect future relations with the University of St. Thomas, St. Catherine University, or this researcher. Termination of participation in this study will have no effect upon these relationships and no further data will be collected.
Contacts and Questions: If you have any questions about this study or consent form please feel free to contact me at (xxx)xxx-xxxx or Grah@stthomas.edu. You may also ask any questions now. If you have further questions you may contact my supervising faculty member and Chair of my research committee Kari Fletcher, Ph D., LICSW at email@example.com or 651-962-5807. If you have other questions or concerns and would like to contact someone other than the researcher and research Chair you may contact (Name), the Chair of the University of St. Thomas Institutional Review Board at (651-962-5341). You may keep a copy of this form for your records.
Statement of Consent: By signing below you are giving your consent and making a decision to participate in this study. Your signature confirms that you have read the information in this form and all of your questions have been answered by the researcher. Even after signing this form, you may terminate your participation in this study up to one week following the scheduled interview.
I consent to participation in this study and I consent to be audio-taped.
Signature of Participant
Signature of Researcher
Appendix B: Letter of Introduction
Potential Interview Participants
October 21, 2012
Name of Potential Participant E-mail Address
Dear Potential Participant,
My name is Jacquie Graham, and I am a Master of Social Work student at University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine University, under the supervision of Assistant Professor Kari Fletcher, Ph.D., LICSW. I have contacted you because you are a licensed Social Worker in Minnesota or Wisconsin who currently works in a secondary school setting grades 9-12. I would like to invite you to participate in an interview study exploring how text messaging affects adolescent communication skills.
I would like to invite you to participate in my study because of your experience interacting with adolescent populations. Participation in this study is completely voluntary and you may terminate your participation in this study up to one week following your scheduled interview. Care will be taken to keep your participation in this study and information confidential. I will apply your non-identifying information to my project presentation and final research paper, which will be published electronically through the St. Catherine University and University of St. Thomas.
I hope you will agree to participate in this study, where you can help contribute the body of information surrounding text messaging and how it affects adolescent communication skills in the social work and research community. Included with this letter of introduction is the schedule of interview questions and informed consent form for your consideration before the scheduled interview time. Before scheduling an interview for this study please verify that you are an adult (over the age 18), a Social worker who has or has experience with the adolescent population.
Thank you once more for your time and consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me by email at Grah@ stthomas.edu or telephone at (xxx) xxx-xxxx if you have any questions.
Jacqueline Graham, BS
Appendix C: Interview Questions
- Can you start off by telling about your experience serving the adolescent population?
- In what ways does texting or technology influence the communication between you and the adolescents you serve?
- How would you define the effects of text messaging upon adolescents?
- In what ways does texting come up in your work with adolescents?
- Do you communicate with adolescent clients via texting?
- How do you perceive the benefits of texting in adolescent’s lives?
- How do you perceive the negative aspects of texting in adolescent’s lives?
- Can you recommend anyone else who might complete these questions? How can I get in contact with them?
Counseling Services and Adolescent and Texting Information
Counseling Services UWRF Counseling Services 715-425-3293 410 S. 3rd Street, 211 Hagestad Hall River Falls, WI 54022
Hudson Counseling Services 715-531-6760 410 Stageline Rd Hudson, WI 54016
Walk in Counseling Center 612-870-0565
2421 Chicago Avenue S Minneapolis, MN 55404
Walk-in Counseling Center offers free counseling services. No appointment is necessary and no insurance is necessary. Walk in hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 1:00- 3:00 PM and Monday through Thursday 6:30- 8:30 PM.
Interprofessional Center for Counseling & Legal Services 651-962-4820 30 S. 10th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55403
Interprofessional Center for Counseling & Legal Services is an organization developed through the University of St. Thomas in collaboration between the School of Law, Graduate School of Professional Psychology, and School of Social Work. This organization offers free counseling services. More information can be found at http://www.stthomas.edu/ipc/
Crisis Connection Minnesota 612-379-6363 or Toll Free MN 1-866-379-6363 Crisis connection is a 24 hour/ 7 days a week support line that is available for anyone at anytime, and specializes in crisis counseling, intervention, and finding referrals. This is a free service and more information can be found at http://www.crisis.org
Edgington, S. (2011). The parent’s guide to texting, Facebook and social media:
Understanding the benefits and dangers of parenting in a digital world. Dallas, TX: Brown Books.
Poncelet, B. (2009). Teen texting dangers. Retrieved from