Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: Are Tweens Too Young for the Social Media Mix?

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Researchers warn that tweens who text may damage their language and grammar skills. If you ask me, the effect of texting on linguistics should be the least of adults’ worries. But first, a word on the research.

Drew Cingel, a doctoral candidate in media at Penn State, conducted a study of how “techspeak”—which involves the use of shortcuts and omission of non-essential letters and keys while composing text messages; e.g., LOL—affects middle schoolers’ grammar. The results? The more the middle schoolers (228 students from central Pennsylvania) used “techspeak” via text messaging, the worse their grammar scores were, discovered Cingel and associates.

An article from the website Science Daily reporting on the study stated: “The researchers suggested that the tweens’ natural desire to imitate friends and family, as well as their inability to switch back to proper grammar, may combine to influence the poor grammar choices they make…”

But social media is allowing tweens to make many more bad choices than grammar blunders.

Social media — especially when used to send incriminating photos and comments into cyberspace — is bad enough when used by teens, whom, scientists tell us and parents confirm, are notoriously bad at making sound judgments. I’m not so sure the 9- to 12-year-old set is any better. And while Facebook has attempted to protect tweens from the ills of social media at the tender ages of 12 and under (according to the social networking site, no one under 13 is allowed to have a Facebook page), they instead have cozied up to its cousin, Instagram.

In the last several months, all I hear from my tweens’ friends is Instagram this and Instagram that. I

It has become the social media tool of choice for tweens. The product lets users take pictures, modify them, add comments, and instantly blast them to other Instagram users. Anyone with an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPod can access Instagram.

The funny thing about tweens is that, overall, they’re not nearly as sneaky as teens. They still talk pretty openly in front of their parents—in fact, incessant banter about nothing seems to be a hallmark of this age group. Nor are they as stealth about passcodes and the like, making it easier for parents to find out what their tweens are posting on Instagram.

And it’s not always pretty. Recently, my husband shared with me an Instagram message that one of his 11-year-old soccer players had sent to another. It was a filthy, lewd message that I couldn’t believe was associated with the cherub-faced, doe-eyed young boy who’d apparently sent it. And just the other day, a gaggle of tween-aged girls sat in my kitchen openly discussing the sketchy details of a horrific tragedy that had happened to one of their acquaintance’s siblings. Not one of them had any first-hand accurate knowledge about the incident, but they were all spouting various related posts they’d read on Instagram.

Beyond the inappropriate and harmful content it may contain, Instagram gives tweens a potential distraction they are in no way equipped to deal with. One friend of mine bemoaned her 11-year-old son’s addiction to Instagram, noting that he’s constantly acting anxious, unsure of what to do first: respond to an Instagram, stick his completed homework in his backpack, or go to sleep. Yikes.

There might be one saving grace in this tween love affair with Instagram. Not only are tweens less secretive than teens, parents generally still exert more authority over them than they do their older counterparts. I suggest they use it, lest they have a lot more to worry about than their tweens’ failing grammar scores.

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