This paper explores effects of Short Message Service (SMS) texting on children, teenagers, and young people through the framework of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory of human development. Bronfenbrenner's theory is used to examine the role of multiple levels of the environment on the person's development. Ecological framework acknowledges both the role of the individual and the dynamic and changing context in which the individual functions. The theory enables the researcher to evaluate how the person and environment (various systems) exert their influence over each other. The evidence confirms that SMS-based interaction and activities in a microsystem of a person's immediate surrounding positively impact development of children, adolescents, and young adults.
Many children, adolescents, and young people use Short Message Service (SMS) texting on a daily basis. Having a mobile phone implies that the one carrying it is constantly connected to a network comprised of friends, relatives, customers, advertisement companies, and whoever else gets hold of the cell phone number. Daily, one can witness undeniable effects of SMS texting on people's lives. It appears that texting influences social life, behavior, mental development, attention, and memory of children, teens, and young people. Various opinions fuel debates whether texting is beneficial or harmful to the underage population' intelligence, academic skills, relationships, values, and performance of various tasks (Ling, 2008; Rice, 2011). Campbell (2005) points out the need for further research and appropriate framework to identify whether the impact of SMS is positive or negative since different opinions exist in this regard. Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory offers a framework that allows examining the role of multiple levels of the environment with respect to the person's development. Ecological theory acknowledges both the role of the individual and the dynamic and changing context in which the individual functions (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). Examination of the influence of SMS texting through the framework of the Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory shows that SMS-based interaction and activities on a microsystem level of a person's immediate surrounding positively impact the development of children, teenagers, and young people via their engagement in text messaging by improving literacy skills, enhancing socialization, and strengthening social bonds.
Children, adolescents, and young people use mobile phones at an increasing rate. Currently, a cell phone is a must-have gadget for nearly every child in developed countries. Parents, teachers, caregivers, and media voice their concerns about the fact that children possess mobile phones at an early school and even preschool age and about the effects that the usage of mobile phones has on a child's health and development. Specific areas of development that these concerns relate to are educational development, socialization, social skills, and social bonds.
Usage of Texting and One's Identity and Socialization
Andrew Yau-Hau Tse (2012) conducted a study on the impact of SMS texting on university students and found that students who preferred text messaging to direct talk had distinctive behavioral and personality differences. "Texters" appeared to be more inward-oriented than "talkers." Nevertheless, students engaged in texting expressed that they were able to communicate via texting their feeling that they were hesitant to verbally communicate about. Also, students admitted that they used texting to develop existing and new relationships. Although texters tend to have a narrower social network, most of the time, their circle of friends and acquaintances is more long-lasting and regular. Furthermore, those who engage into texting in order to communicate about private and personal matters perceive SMS as a "comparatively safe environment for creating and sustaining relationships" (Yau-Hau Tse, 2012, p. 109). One more benefit of text messaging is that it enables a phone owner to stay connected to friends in an environment when talking is not possible.
Texting and Literacy Attainment
Wood, Jackson, Hart, Plester, and Wilde (2011) found a positive relationship between usage of mobile phone text messaging and children's performance on spelling and reading tests. Their research showed that although children's usage of mobile phones for messaging over a period of two and a half months did not give a significant benefit or disadvantage in literacy attainment, engaging in texting affected positively spelling and lexical retrieval (word finding) skills and led to improvements in literacy skills.
Effects on Social Bonds, Habits, and Behavior
Different children, teenagers, and young people regard the importance of texting and its effects differently. However, many feel that they have to stay constantly connected to their social networks and that texting is one option that ensures that they do stay connected. Some young people report that they even wake up during the night to reply to messages. However, loss of sleep is insignificant in case with texters since avid computer gamers and TV viewers miss on much more sleep time because of their addictions. Rice (2011) found that some students felt so busy and overwhelmed by daytime activities that the only suitable time to socialize was during the night via text messaging. Employment of mobile technology helps teenagers and young people to strengthen their social connections with family and friends and increases cohesion within the family and peer groups (Ling, 2008). Moreover, texting affects person's involvement in social activities by facilitating coordination and enhancing accessibility. Texting helps to arrange and rearrange social events with a greater degree of flexibility.
The very nature of the mobile phone has changed since it turned from a technological gadget into a social tool and became one of the major and most popular media of electronic communication. Campbell (2005) recognized relational and functional advantages of texting in young people's lives. For example, the majority of high school students consider texting with their peers as the most important reason for using a mobile phone. Usage of mobile phones accounts for the emergence of new standards of politeness among young people in respect to how much time it should take on average to reply to a SMS. It appears that if a response takes longer than thirty minutes, an apology is required. SMS makes it easier for children, adolescents, and young people to "fulfill one's social obligations to stay in touch without spending time or energy on the encounter" (Campbell, 2005, p. 5).
Negative Impact of SMS Texting
There are numerous claims that the changes that take place in interpersonal communication are not necessarily positive ones. Some of the negative issues that usage of mobile phones has triggered are personal anti-social inclinations, "hiding behind the phone" syndrome, lack and fear of face-to-face contact, and cyber-bullying (Campbell, 2005). Since technological progress can not be reversed, society has to cope with challenges that usage of mobile phones and texting brings.
Negative influences of mobile phone and SMS texting are many and varied. For, example it enables groups of young people to gatecrash social events and parties. Some young people hide behind the phone and texting from emotionally distressful events, such as ended relationships. Others ostracize those peers who do not have mobile phones. Campbell (2005) found that "Non-mobile phone owners are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion" (p. 5). Many adolescents who do not have a mobile phone feel left out of social interactions while some feel pressured by their friends to obtain a mobile phone. One more very harmful phenomenon created by mobile phone usage and SMS texting is cyber bullying that is used to intimidate and inflict emotional sufferings on others. Most of the cyber bullying victims have been bullied by texting (Campbell, 2005). Cyber bullying accounts for psychosomatic symptoms, increased levels of anxiety and depression, and even suicide. Another negative aspect of texting is that young people limit their capacity to interact with others and resort to texting when they fail to resolve emotionally difficult or awkward situations. Also, some parents use texting as a means to be overly intrusive in their child's life or exercise greater control. Moreover, texting may be disruptive when practiced during studies by reducing student's attention in class and it might be used to cheat on tests as well.
While Campbell raises valid concerns relating to the impact of the phone and SMS on the underage person's development, these negative impacts do not cancel the benefits gained by usage of SMS texting discussed in other parts of the paper. Also, it seems that the author did not take into account monitored and limited youth engagement into texting. Moreover, negative issues that Campbell (2005) highlights can be categorized as "instances" rather than mass trends.
The Problem in the Context of Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory
Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory is used to examine the role of multiple levels of the environment on the person's development. Ecological framework acknowledges both the role of the individual and the dynamic and changing context in which the individual functions (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). The theory enables the researcher to evaluate how the person and various environmental systems exert their influence over each other. It views a person as developing within a complex system of relationships affected by multiple levels of the surrounding environment (Berk, 2010). According to the ecological theory, different environmental systems have a powerful impact on the individual's development.
Bronfernbrenner identified the following systems: microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. Microsystem encompasses interactions and activities in the person's immediate environment (immediate family, child-care center, school, and neighborhood). Mesosystem is the second level of Bronfenbrenner's model that represents connection between microsystems. For example, parent involvement affects academic achievement, and workplace conditions affect family life. Exosystem represents social systems that do not contain a person, but affect individual's environment and experiences. Examples of exosystem elements are religious institutions, health care services, social services, local community, and social networks. The outermost level of Bronfernbrenner's model is the macrosystem that includes cultural values, customs, laws, and resources. Priorities and values of macrosystem affect how well a person can function on microsystem, mesosystem, and exosystem levels. Some of the elements of macrosystem are workplace benefits for working parents and pension plans. Lastly, chronosystem represents changes imposed by external environment or generated by the individual himself/herself. Therefore, both person's inner dispositions and environmental circumstances form a network of interconnected events. Thus, people are both producers and products of their environment (Bronfenbrenner, 1994; Berk, 2010). The comprehensive nature of the Bronfernbrenner's theory allows conducting a thorough and well-grounded investigation of the SMS texting effects on children, adolescents, and young adults.
Effects of SMS through Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Framework
Microsystem is a pattern of activities, interpersonal relationships, and social roles that a developing individual experiences, in particular in face-to-face settings (Bronfenbrenner, 1994). In this paper, examined studies evaluated children, adolescents, and young people's engagement in complex interactions within the immediate environments (microsystem). The paper examined such elements of microsystem as peer groups, school, and family.
Evaluated studies indicate that negative issues present on a microsystem level such as personal anti-social inclinations, "hiding behind the phone" syndrome, lack and fear of face-to-face contact, cyber-bullying, social exclusion, feelings of being left out of non-mobile phone owners, parental over-intrusiveness, and disruption of student's attention in class tend to affect a relatively small percentage of children, teenagers, and young adults in comparison with the entire population of texters.
Study by Wood, Jackson, Hart, Plester, and Wilde (2011) found that engaging in texting affected positively spelling and lexical retrieval (word finding) skills and led to improvements in literacy skills. Yau-Hau Tse (2012) argued that although texters tended to have a narrower social network, most of the time, their circle of friends and acquaintances was more long-lasting and regular. Also, text messaging enabled a phone owner to stay connected to friends in an environment when talking was not possible. Ling (2008) argued that texting helped teens and young people to strengthen their social connections with family and friends and increased cohesion within the family and peer groups, while Campbell (2005) recognized relational and functional advantages of texting in young people's lives. Also, SMS makes it easier for children, adolescents, and young people to fulfill their social obligations and to stay in touch with friends and parents. Cited researches that studied SMS influence within the microsystem context indicate that positive SMS influence is massive and large-scale.
Therefore, investigation of impacts that SMS texting has on children, adolescents, and young people shows that on a microsystem level (peer groups, school, classroom, and family) such impact is more positive than negative, taking into consideration the massive nature of positive influences and a fragmented character of negative ones.
The objective of this paper was to investigate the influence of using SMS texting on children, teenagers, and young people in their immediate environment through the framework of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory of human development. Concerns of parents, teachers, and caregivers about their children's engagement into texting indicated the need for further research. Examination of available academic sources and empirical studies has revealed that although fragmented negative effects of SMS-based interaction and activities exist, text messaging has a positive effect on social life, psychological, literacy, mental skills, as well as on communication, relationships, and social bonds of children, teenagers, and young people on a microsystem level.