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Originally published May 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 11, 2007 at 2:33 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Thumbs down to text messaging

A recent ad for a cellphone company speaks volumes about the schism between phone companies and parents of teenagers.

A recent ad for a cellphone company speaks volumes about the schism between phone companies and parents of teenagers. Parents need not worry about the high cost of text messaging. No, never. The best plan is unlimited — the companies' favorite word — as in, unlimited text messaging!.

Are these people completely insane?

For many people, the issue is not the cost, though that, too, can be prohibitive. The more glaring problem is all the time spent, the incessant interruptions and sleep deprivation.

Text messaging is a new crunch point between parents, teens and tweens, because the younger set loves the discreet, nonstop communication where every small thought, including "Hey" and " 'Sup," is shared instantaneously.

I'm all for new ways of communicating, though this mode has a certain anonymous, no-face-time quality to it. Phone manners are neither learned nor necessary. Good grammar and spelling r 2 b 4 gotten.

And if teens can yammer all night via text, making them sleep-deprived zombies, the advertisements suggest, parents can surely be comforted knowing they don't have to worry about spending too much on text messages.

Text messaging has obvious benefits. A parent can cattle-prod little Joey via a phone set to vibrate to hand in his money for a school trip without disrupting the precious little prince in class. Another teen can announce he or she landed safely after a first drive to a new destination, or quietly, without friends knowing, request a few extra minutes past curfew.

But you've seen the teens and tweens, the possessed souls sitting next to their friends on the couch, texting away, not even looking at the friends whom they are sitting beside. "Be Here Now" becomes more, ''Well, I am here, now, but, hopefully, I can go, via text, somewhere else, somewhere, somehow better."

Text messaging is the enemy of a well-rested student, especially if the phone is kept in the teen's or tween's room at night. A friend's excitability or insomnia is shared over and over again. The result is a classroom of kids who missed another night of sleep.

School districts can't do anything about home rules but they can attempt to manage the school day

The Federal Way School Board, for example, wants to streamline and simplify policies for elementary, middle- and high-school students. They are considering a policy that says no electronic devices during the school day, with possible exceptions for high-school teachers allowing iPods in certain classes.

At the risk of sounding like Miss Manners, text messaging promotes rudeness. Parent and teen are driving somewhere, or two teens are driving somewhere, and in either case, one is sending and receiving a couple thousand text messages. Because they can.

Teens do this all day — what? ... to look busy and important. The thoughts being shared could be big important ones, like, "Love ya," or "Meet u @ mall," but more often are a reaction to something. There's the familiar "LOL" or "Laugh Out Loud," followed by "Ur funny," spelled so badly no one will ever really remember how to differentiate between "You're" or "Your" anything.

A generation facing the highest academic expectations in history is spending too much time writing and speaking mangled English.

How is a teen or middle-school student supposed to have a meaningful reading hour or two with a good book, if the blasted text is going off at all times?

At some houses, those led by text-savvy parents, the cellphone, with all its mad texting and picture-sending capabilities, sits on a charger at night some distance from the teen lair.

That way, at least, a young person can actually fall asleep, blissfully unaware that some friend is, well, having another thought.

The Washington Legislature this year addressed the most glaring text-safety issue, making DWT, or driving while texting, a ticket-able offense. Starting next January, a law-enforcement officer can pull a motorist over for texting and driving if he or she is committing another offense. The ticket is expensive, $112 or more. The State Patrol is particularly interested in such behavior among younger, less-experienced drivers.

As always, cell companies and teens are about 10 steps ahead of parents on this new technology. But the technology cuts both ways. Parents can find some empowerment on the cellphone bill. If a teen or tween is going text crazy, the parent can always push back and, horrors, take the text out.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

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