The Psychology Edit – Issue #2

Dear friend,

This week, I was chatting with a middle school student who told me that, when texting, it is not cool to punctuate with periods. For example, if someone responds ‘ok.’, there’s a good chance they are upset with you. I had not heard about this punctuation ‘rule’, and was intrigued, so I decided to perform some (VERY) informal research to determine whether this applied across the board, or only in this person’s social world.

I queried a total of about fifty middle school, high school, and college students and discovered that it is true for all of them. Commas are also frowned upon; exclamation marks are ok, as long as you don’t overdo it (I have a particular weakness for exclamation marks!!!) One very smart 12th grader opined that adults (30’s and above) view texts similarly to the way they view emails—a more formal way of communicating, while younger people see texts as a conversation, not very different to actual speaking, so not requiring punctuation. To differentiate sentences, simply send one sentence per text.

To vaguely approximate scientific accuracy, I also included some post-college age people in my research. The youngest of these mostly agree that periods can be pretty hostile while mid-twenties to early-30’s use punctuation when texting their boss, but default to little to none in all other circumstances. Most adults older seemed slightly appalled at the idea of not utilizing punctuation: it is sloppy, others will judge negatively, texts will not be clearly understood. All fair points.

Some kids told me they find it weird when adults don’t use punctuation (in the same category as adults who try to dress or act like kids.) Some adults told me that they worry about the next generation not being able to communicate in writing, based on the way they text.

This has me thinking even more than I usually do (which is a lot) about the value of perspective. Helping people see each other’s points of view is essential in my work. In this case, there are clear arguments to be made both for using and not using punctuation, depending on how one understands and utilizes texting. It is possible that at a certain age you will be judged negatively for not using punctuation and I’m also confident that future adults are not doomed to an inability to communicate because of the way they text.

Bottom line: it is important to not immediately judge harshly, but rather accept differences and clarify if a text seems amiss. A few ways to accomplish this:

  1. Read the text as if in the voice of the other person. (For example, parents should imagine their child writing the text; young adults should ‘hear’ their boss/teacher writing). Taking this empathic approach can quickly help you see the other’s perspective.
  2. Ask for clarification. If you are upset after reading a text, send another text or even better, call the other person to ask them to explain what they meant. Many disagreements can be avoided once the other person explains the intent of their text.
  3. Accept and respect differences in texting style. Of course, accepting and respecting can be applied to many, far more important parts of life, but even for something as seemingly trivial as texting, it is critical to recognize that being older and wiser, or younger and cooler, doesn’t make your perspective correct. It just makes it correct for you (no period)

Thanks for reading!