Families and Electronic Devices

By Pam Henderson

I was texting my daughter a few days ago to tell her that I was leaving work to exercise and wouldn’t have my phone with me. As I was typing, I misspelled the word “phone” as “hphone”. My phone’s auto-correct changed the misspelled word to “husband”.  So, my sentence read, “I’m going to exercise now and am putting my husband in the trunk.”

My claim to fame is that I can type 96 words/minutes on a keyboard. I may be able to type that fast while texting on my phone, but the combination of my haste and chubby fingers has created new English phrases like, “Isbpulled porkbin the frig you can hear if you’re hungry,” “Wantbtobfibi,” “The temp outside is 183 degrees,” “Shesnorib and Sucuvvess”.

Would you like to eat dinner at my house and eat “Snethubg?” I suggested that dinner to my husband; I think it was supposed to say “spaghetti.”

These are just a few of my wayward messages. My husband can usually decipher my invented language from the context of the text; however, my daughter questioned why we would look for a new car with 5 wheels. (That was intended to say “4-wheel drive”.)

I realize that I’m becoming sloppier with my texts to loved ones, but I’m not concerned that it has any long-term impact. I know that I can spell, punctuate and capitalize. There is an entire generation, though, for whom I worry. Hand-held electronics have really changed our way of life as a society, and in particular, our way of communicating. My daughters tell me that I’m old-fashioned, and “When you were a teenager in the 1920’s… things were a lot different.”  Yet, I would be mortified to submit a college application that speaks of my “Sucuvvess” (meaning success), or to have Sheriff Boyd find my lost cell phone with a text stating that my husband is in the trunk.

Generally speaking, we’ve become lazier in our written communication and pay less attention to the world around us. Distracted walking has become such a problem that the American Academia of Orthopedic Surgeons has dedicated an entire web page to educating the public about the dangers of walking into traffic, crashing into pedestrians and tripping over curbs while looking down into an electronic device. Spending even a second away from a phone, though, can send a young adult’s heart racing. Even some of the old fogies in my generation cannot be farther than an arms-length reach from their phones.

Perhaps you’ve noticed individuals in a restaurant texting during dinner and not looking at each other. Rick and I have been surprised to see our daughter’s texting each other – while sitting directly across the table from each other. We make up words so we don’t have to exert the energy, or take up the character space, to spell out a full thought – LOL, ROTFL, and BRB.  When did we stop worrying about ending sentences with a preposition, or beginning a sentence with a conjunction, or caring if our pronoun agrees with the antecedent? We don’t have to learn how to spell, because our phones do it for us automatically. Beware that anything you say or do that is funny, embarrassing or remotely interesting will probably be posted to someone else’s social media page.

Sloppy text messaging seems like it’s throwing our 3rd grade English skills by the wayside. One of the cute books I read to my young daughters was “Eat Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss and Bonnie Timmons. The book is a humorous look at how the comma, this punctuation mark which is hardly bigger than a dot, has tremendous significance. A comma makes the difference between eating a huge hot dog or a huge, hot dog.

The book’s creators explain the power of the comma in this scenario:

A panda walks into a restaurant, orders a sandwich, then pulls out a gun and shoots it. When asked why he did that, the panda tells the restaurant owner to look him up in the dictionary. The dictionary entry states “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” The dictionary entry refers to the bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves that the panda eats. This is a completely different scenario than that of the panda at the restaurant, which “Eats, shoots and leaves” (e.g. eats dinner, shoots a gun and leaves the restaurant.)

Last spring, researchers presented a study at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggesting that children who begin using handheld devices before talking may be at higher risk for speech delays. More studies will help researchers better understand this link between use of handhelds and delays. Putting aside the data, consider that children learn to talk from hearing, babbling, singing and reading with their parents. When the parent is replaced by a handheld device, the human interaction is gone.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family counselor, said it best when it comes to electronic devices squeezing out children and parents from their relationships with each other. She wrote a piece for Psych Central titled, “Put Your Phone Away and Pay Attention to Your Kids. In this piece, Dr. Hartwell-Walker tells us that our kids need our first priority to be our relationships with them, not with our phones. For kids to grow, they need us to be curious about their experiences and to comment on what is going on around us in an ongoing way. Providing kids with direct attention and interested conversation is one of the most important responsibilities of parenting.