ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
American teenagers say e-mail is passe. And talking on the phone? Well, that's for parents. With friends, they prefer to let their fingers do the talking -actually, their thumbs.
New research out today finds three out of four teenagers now have cell phones, and they're using them to send lots of text messages.
NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
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JENNIFER LUDDEN: As classes let out at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, students are tapping on their phones before they even reach the exit.
The Pew Research Center and the University of Michigan find the average teen sends about 50 texts a day, a third send double that. But even they have nothing on 17-year-old Sierra Koenick. Her grandfather once analyzed her phone bill. The total: 300 texts a day. What about?
Ms. SIERRA KOENICK (Student, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School): I mean, talking about everything. What's going on, or hey, or meet me here, or something. Usually they're actually dumb texts, not even worth it. But...
LUDDEN: But she likes sending them anyway. Asking when do you text feels like a dumb question. The answer is all the time. In fact, as I interview Koenick and two friends, they keep texting while we talk. Koenick says people often use texting to chat with or about someone who's right there.
Ms. KOENICK: Like, if it's somebody in front of you and you don't want them to know you're talking about them.
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LUDDEN: Okay, so this makes me wonder if you're texting about me.
Ms. KOENICK: No, I'm not. I'm not texting them.
LUDDEN: Outside, junior Daniel Epstein and his girlfriend lounge on the steps, each with a cell phone at their fingertips. I ask Epstein about efforts to limit his texting and hear the kind of dilemma that will sound familiar to many an office worker with a crack Berry.
Mr. DANIEL EPSTEIN (Student, Bethesda Chevy Chase High School): Like, I used to keep my phone on silent. And then, you know, like at the end of the day I check it and then, like, I have, like, 10 text messages from this one person saying, like, I really need you to give me this password or something. So sometimes it's like something urgent that you have to really quickly respond to.
Ms. AMANDA LENHART (Senior Research Specialist, The Internet & American Life Project, Pew Research Center): They're really weaving this into their day. It is in some ways for teens a lot like breathing.
LUDDEN: Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Center says the report finds parents and schools struggling to set limits on teen texting. Nearly two-thirds of parents say they've taken a child's cell phone away as punishment. But that can backfire. Parents say they like using phones to track a child's whereabouts and for logistics.
As for school limits, Lenhart says they don't have much impact.
Ms. LENHART: They still bring their phones to school. We found that 58 percent of teens who go to schools where the phone is forbidden say they've sent a text message in class.
LUDDEN: In Los Angeles, Harvard-Westlake High School considered an outright ban last year. Nini Halkett has taught history there for two decades. As she sees her students increasingly immersed in texting, she finds them increasingly shy and awkward in personal encounters.
Ms. NINI HALKETT (Teacher, Harvard-Westlake High School): They can get up the courage to ask you for an extension on a test or something like that on the computer, but they won't come and speak to you face to face about it. And that worries me in terms of their ability to, you know - particularly once they get out on in the workplace - their ability to interact with people.
LUDDEN: At Bethesda-Chevy Chase High, several students actually voiced the same concern. And as in Pew focus groups, teens admitted to using texting to avoid confrontation with each other or their parents - say, if you're already at the movie theater and want your mom's permission to see the film.
But researcher Amanda Lenhart says teens are also strategic about when not to text.
Ms. LENHART: We heard from teens who said, you know, when I want the yes, I'll go to the phone because my parents can hear my voice and I can kind of wheedle and I can charm them, and that's how I'm going to get what I want.
LUDDEN: The art of conversation still alive and well.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington.
BLOCK: Do you put limits on your teen's texting? Do you think texting hurts your child's social skills? You can tell us at npr.org.