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Tweens + Txting = Bd Grmmr?

girl playing nintendo lying on bed
Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RF

Cn yr tn txt a lot & hve gd grmmr 2?

Some researchers at Pennsylvania State University fear the answer is no.

A study published in July in the journal New Media & Society found that 10- to 14-year-olds who frequently write and receive text messages scored lower on a grammar test than their peers who reported less texting activity. In other words, kids who are commonly punching out “wud” and “gr8” on their cell phones may find themselves forgetting to slide into the proper “would” and “great” spellings when it comes time for, say, an English test.

So, parents of middle schoolers, worried yet?

Never fear. We’re here to help you wade through yet another thicket of well-meaning but stress-inducing advice about your kid and his beloved social media world. If you are concerned, we have some solutions. And maybe you don’t even have to fret, at all.

First off, don’t get between the kids and their teensy keyboards. You’re just launching a battle you can’t win. “If they want to text using text slang, I don’t necessarily think parents should get into their kids’ business about that,” says Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media. “There’s a time and a place for everything.”

Instead, try to lead by example. “Parents could limit their own use of text adaptations when texting their kids, in order to minimize the social learning of such abbreviations,” says S. Shyam Sundar, one of the study’s co-authors and a professor of communication at Penn State.

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That could defeat the point of texting, though, Sundar adds. It may not be possible to be brief and proper at the same time.

Nor may it be desirable, Knorr says. “I do tend to kid-ify my texts to my kid, because then I think he’ll be more inclined to answer me,” she says.

So Sundar offers a backup plan: Talk to your kids about the distinction between informal and formal writing. Let them know “that they ought to confine these adaptations to the realm of texting and be careful not to (allow texting shortcuts to) bleed over into their writing at school,” he says.

You can also bring the grammar discussion into your daily life, says Ellie Grossman, who writes the syndicated Grammar Guru column.

Watch TV or listen to the radio with your kid, she suggests. If you hear a grammatical faux pas, write it down. When it’s over, show your child the paper and ask her if she sees anything wrong with that phrase or sentence. Consider offering a small reward if she gets the answer right.

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“Try to be relaxed,” she says. “Try to make grammar fun.”

And try not to make too big a deal out of any of this, says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist who teaches at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

“People have blamed every technology since the telegraph appeared in 1840,” he says. “Everyone was going to write succinct sentences because of the telegraph. Then, who comes along? Henry James.”

Part of growing up is learning how to write for different people, under different circumstances, he says. “We all know how to make that distinction,” he says. “It’s part of being a speaker of a language.”

Of course, there will be mistakes along the way. “Kids sometimes take a while to learn it,” he says.

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