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Cell Phone Decision Making: Adolescents' Perceptions of How and Why They Make the Choice to Text or Call

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The primary aim of this study was to examine how and why adolescents make decisions regarding whether to conduct their communication via texting versus calling features of cellular telephones. Individual semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with 41 adolescents aged 14 to 18 focusing on their use of calling and texting when communicating with friends, parents, and romantic partners. Through grounded theory analysis, a conceptual decision-tree emerged depicting a process of decision making based on communication content, communication partner, and situational limitations. Further analysis indicated that the adolescents consistently perceived texting as easier than calling in ways that were meaningful to their everyday lives. Findings reflect the complex interweaving of logic, personal preference, and concession to social constraints that goes into adolescents’ choices to call versus text.
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Youth & Society
2015, Vol. 47(3) 395 –411
© The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0044118X13499594
Cell Phone Decision
Making: Adolescents’
Perceptions of How and
Why They Make the
Choice to Text or Call
Bethany L. Blair1, Anne C. Fletcher1, and
Erin R. Gaskin1
The primary aim of this study was to examine how and why adolescents make
decisions regarding whether to conduct their communication via texting
versus calling features of cellular telephones. Individual semistructured
qualitative interviews were conducted with 41 adolescents aged 14 to
18 focusing on their use of calling and texting when communicating with
friends, parents, and romantic partners. Through grounded theory analysis,
a conceptual decision-tree emerged depicting a process of decision making
based on communication content, communication partner, and situational
limitations. Further analysis indicated that the adolescents consistently
perceived texting as easier than calling in ways that were meaningful to their
everyday lives. Findings reflect the complex interweaving of logic, personal
preference, and concession to social constraints that goes into adolescents’
choices to call versus text.
adolescent development, cellular phones, communication, decision making,
peer relations
1The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA
Corresponding Author:
Bethany L. Blair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, The University of
North Carolina at Greensboro, P.O. Box 26170, 248 Stone Building, Greensboro, NC 27402,
499594YAS47310.1177/0044118X13499594Youth & SocietyBlair et al.
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396 Youth & Society 47(3)
Communication with peers and parents is an essential part of adolescent life.
Adolescents need to engage in communication with peers because processes
related to the psychosocial tasks of identity formation and social develop-
ment result in increased needs for self-disclosure, mutual validation, and
relationship building (Buhrmester & Prager, 1995). In addition, communica-
tion with parents is critical due to needs for logistic arrangements, parental
monitoring, and relational maintenance (Kerr, Stattin, & Trost, 1999; Ling,
2000). Decision making is an inherent component of communication. One of
the communication-related decisions that modern adolescents must make
repeatedly throughout a given day involves the medium through which they
will engage in communication. Advances in technology have created far
more options for communication mediums than ever before, complicating
this decision-making process. Currently, cell phones represent the most com-
mon medium for adolescent communication, particularly communication
with peers, with both texting and calling features frequently used by this age
group. Cell phone communication is even more common as a socialization
outlet than face-to-face communication for many adolescents (Lenhart,
2012). This is meaningful due to cell phones’ capacity to alter the ways in
which adolescents communicate with and relate to significant individuals in
their lives by offering instantaneous and continuous access, text-based com-
munication options, and multitasking capabilities (Ling, 2004). The current
study explores adolescents’ self-perceived experiences with making deci-
sions between texting and calling.
Adolescents’ Preferences for Texting
When adolescents are faced with choosing between texting and calling, the
choice is resoundingly clear: They choose texting. Recent reports from the
Pew Institute indicate that 75% of all American adolescents text and 63% text
on at least a daily basis. Among American adolescents, texting is now the
most common way of socializing with others; it is more common than call-
ing, in-person activities (outside of school), instant messaging, or use of
social networking websites. In 2011, the mean number of texts sent or
received by girls ages 14 to 17 was 187 per day and for boys it was 176. On
the other hand, only 26% of adolescents report making or receiving calls to
communicate with their friends by cell phone on a daily basis (Lenhart,
2012). The Nielson Company (2011) recently estimated that adolescents
exchange an average of seven texts per waking hour. Together, these studies
indicate that adolescents prefer texting.
A number of hypotheses regarding adolescents’ inclination toward texting
have been proposed, some of which have been empirically validated. These
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Blair et al. 397
hypotheses focus on issues of convenience (cost and availability; Conti-
Ramsden, Durkin, & Simkin, 2010), autonomy (the ability to maintain pri-
vacy in communication; Ling, 2010; Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008), or
self-disclosure (lowered inhibitions that may arise as the result of lack of
nonverbal cues and increased control over communication pacing; Tidwell &
Walther, 2002). Many of these hypotheses borrow from theoretical frame-
works developed to explain decision making and motives regarding internet
communication. Although there are tenets of internet communication theo-
ries that apply nicely to cell phone use, there are also problems with this
approach. For instance, some of the critical features of internet communica-
tion either do not apply to or are relatively rare in cell phone communication,
such as the possibility of anonymity or opportunities for self-presentation to
a peer group (Valkenburg & Peter, 2011). In addition, applying previously
developed theories to changing technology brings the risk of limiting empiri-
cal interpretation when considering the dynamic nature of new technology.
This approach can cause researchers to fail to acknowledge the historic and
social contexts of technology development and use as well as overemphasize
particular characteristics of the technology that are consistent with previous
technologies or with popular perceptions of the technology (Woolgar, 2005).
In the case of cell phone research, this includes the risk of overemphasizing
the potential deleterious effects of texting that the popular media has sub-
scribed to (e.g., Hafner, 2009) or overcompensating for this popular percep-
tion by emphasizing only the benefits of texting. Thus, the current study
utilizes a grounded theory approach to allow adolescent participants to artic-
ulate in their own words how and why they choose to text or call.
Adolescent Decision Making
There is growing interest in how and why adolescents make the decisions
they do (see Albert & Steinberg, 2011, for a recent review). Based on this
growing empirical and theoretical work, we know there are critical features
of adolescent decision-making processes that likely guide adolescents’
choices regarding cell phone use. First, contrary to popular opinion, adoles-
cents are quite capable of rational decision making and are not simply slaves
to impulse. This is important to recognize because it clears the way to exam-
ining adolescents’ cell phone choices as processes that include reasoned
decisions. Another important consideration is that adolescents’ decisions are
often guided by social constraints beyond their control. Regarding cell
phone use, adolescents may be constrained by rules imposed by parents and
schools concerning how and when cell phones can be utilized as well as by
social norms of appropriate cell phone etiquette. In addition, there are likely
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constraints related to their communication partners’ expectations and tech-
nological abilities (Ito, 2005). Therefore, there is a potential labyrinth of
constraints that adolescents must negotiate every time they choose between
texting and calling.
The Current Study
This study contributes to the fields of adolescent communication, technology
use, and decision making by examining adolescents’ decisions regarding call-
ing or texting when communicating with their peers and parents. Despite the
growing body of work on adolescent decision making, surprisingly little is
known about how adolescents themselves perceive their decision-making
processes. We also know exceedingly little about decision making related to
technology use. Our qualitative approach extends previous research by utiliz-
ing adolescents’ own words to guide the emergence of a theoretical process
by which adolescents negotiate their needs for communication via cell phone
as well as their perceptions of the reasons underlying this process. We focus
on (a) how adolescents make the decision to text or call, particularly with
reference to the questions they ask themselves when making that decision, as
well as (b) why they make the decisions that they do, particularly focusing on
the reasons for adolescents’ proclivity to text.
Participants consisted of 41 adolescents. One adolescent chose not to provide
any demographic information; therefore, the following descriptive statistics
are based on a sample of 40, although data from all 41 participants were
retained in all other analyses. The sample was ethnically diverse: 16 White,
14 Black, 5 multiracial, and 5 adolescents from other ethnic backgrounds.
The sample was 85% female (n = 34) and 15% male (n = 6). Participants were
fairly evenly divided among all grades of high school from 9th to 12th grades,
and ranged in age from 14 to 18, with a mean age of 16 years and 4 months.
Mothers’ educational levels ranged from 1 mother who did not receive a high
school diploma to 10 who had received their graduate degrees with a modal
level of some college. Fathers’ educational levels ranged from one father who
had not completed high school to two who had received graduate degrees
with a modal level of some college education. Sixty percent of participants
lived in homes with both biological parents present, 25% lived in homes with
single mothers. Participants were recruited from schools, church youth
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groups, and by means of a snowball sampling strategy. Pseudonyms were
assigned to all participants for the purposes of this article.
Participants completed individual qualitative interviews and descriptive
quantitative surveys during the 2010 to 2011 school year. Interviews were
conducted in a location of the participant’s choosing, most often at the par-
ticipant’s home, at a library, or at the community center where the participant
was recruited. Interviews averaged 30 minutes. Adolescents were entered
into a drawing for a gift card to a local store of their choosing.
In the individual interviews, adolescents responded to a series of open-
ended questions regarding facets of social technology use within the context
of salient relationships in their lives. The current study focused on partici-
pants’ responses to the following questions: “When communicating with
your [friends/parents/boyfriend or girlfriend] using your cell phone, do you
tend to call them more or text them more? Why do you think this is? Can you
give some examples of how you make that choice?” and “When communicat-
ing with your [friends/parents/boyfriend or girlfriend] using your cell phone,
what do you tend to contact them about? Can you give me some examples of
when you used your cell phone to communicate about [previously mentioned
topic]?” Each of these questions was probed for specifics of when, how, why,
and with whom the participants communicated.
Data Analysis
A grounded theory approach was utilized to identify themes and codes emerg-
ing from the interviews (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Interviews were tran-
scribed verbatim and then a coding strategy was implemented that began with
repeated readings of the 41 interviews and open coding. Initial readings
focused on establishing a broad sense for how adolescents utilized their cell
phones, with whom, and how they perceived their cell phone use. Throughout
these readings, researchers met regularly and discussed impressions of the
data and emerging themes. After agreeing that the data were framed by the
theme of decision making regarding calling and texting, we began a process
of open coding that yielded codes focused on perceptions of cell phone com-
munication features (calling and texting), communication partners (parents
and peers), expressed reasons for utilizing a particular cell phone feature (as
well as the salience of these reasons), and the content of communications.
Then, through an iterative process that involved multiple readings of tran-
scripts by all authors and discussions regarding transcript and code content,
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we refined the codes, identified indicators of each code, and developed sub-
codes as needed.
When a comprehensive list of codes was agreed on, two authors indepen-
dently utilized the list to apply an axial coding strategy to a subsample of the
transcripts. During independent coding, the authors maintained memos not-
ing any problems encountered as well as thoughts regarding the utility of
each code. After initial coding was completed, all coding decisions and
memos were compared and discussed. Through this process, potential prob-
lems with the coding scheme were discovered and rectified, and then the
coding scheme was applied to the full data set, with 94% agreement across
coders. All discrepancies were discussed and resolved through consensus.
Atlas.ti software was used to manage data and was also utilized to orga-
nize and condense the data. We grouped data by code and read the grouped
codes for patterns. Next, we analyzed grouped sections of code in an iterative
process, resulting in a conceptual framework of decision making regarding
when to call versus text. The content and organization of this framework was
developed by first formulating a conceptual map based on impressions gained
from reading all transcripts, then going through each transcript individually,
and refining the diagram with each successive transcript, resulting in a com-
posite decision-tree (Miles, Huberman, & Saldana, 2014). Next, we went
back to the data in a cross-case analysis in an effort to further explicate the
reasons for the decisions adolescents’ made about cell phone use. Our cross-
case analysis revealed three specific ways in which adolescents perceived
texting to be easier than calling. Finally, we reanalyzed a subset of transcripts
with a negative-case analysis to verify the applicability of the findings to
individual participants.
Making the Choice
All adolescents in the sample expressed a strong preference for texting over
calling features of cell phones, but there were patterns regarding how they
chose between the two. A hierarchical series of characteristics regarding the
circumstances of communication choices emerged that explained the decision-
making process. We developed a conceptual model representing the ques-
tions adolescents consider when deciding whether to call versus text (see
Figure 1). The order in which these questions appear in the model was deter-
mined by analysis of the logic behind the questions rather than representing a
time-ordered sequence. In fact, it is likely that adolescents consider many of
these questions simultaneously when making real-world decisions regarding
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communication. Our analysis evaluated the sequential logic of these ques-
tions based on (a) adolescents’ statements regarding prioritization of certain
circumstances in their decision making as well as (b) the order in which ques-
tions or circumstances were mentioned in their responses. We then utilized
this analysis to sketch out a conceptual map of how this order of logic might
be displayed and arrived at a decision-tree as a representation of the decision-
making process.
The first question in the framework was whether texting was even an
option. It was rare for participants to consider texting impossible, although
they did report this occasionally. The most common situation in which tex-
ting was not an option was when the communication partner, most often a
parent, did not have texting capability or skill. “My mom can’t receive texts
. . . and my dad never looks at his texts” (Brittany). When participants men-
tioned this barrier, it was clear that it “trumped” all other questions in the
decision-making process. Participants did not mention any circumstances
under which calling might not be an option.
The next question of the decision-tree involved the time or place in which
the adolescent wanted to communicate. If the location was restricted in some
way, adolescents nearly always chose to text rather than call. Adolescents
Figure 1. Conceptual decision-tree of adolescents’ decision-making process
regarding texting or calling.
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described texting as less disruptive and more immediate than calling and
therefore it could be utilized under virtually any circumstance. The most
common restricted situation was when adolescents were communicating with
parents while at school.
If I’m in school and my parents need something, they’ll text me. And I’ll text them
if I need something ‘cause I cannot call when I’m in school. I’m not even supposed
to have my phone in school, but if we’re not doing anything, hey. (Kendall)
Texting during school allowed adolescents to bypass school rules, which
would not have been possible with calling. As Anna stated, “I’ve texted my
mom during school before because you can’t, ya know, pop out your phone
and talk to her.” There were other locations in which adolescents’ communi-
cations were limited by either social norms, such as a movie theater, or char-
acteristics of the location itself, such as: “The other night I was at a concert
and just texted her because you can’t really call someone from a concert
(laughs)” (Jessica). Adolescents also considered texting preferable while
socializing with others. “I don’t know, you can be hanging out with a group
of people and be texting at the same time. But you can’t be, like, on the phone
talking because then you miss out on what you’re doing” (Anna). Other ado-
lescents explained that calling early in the morning or late at night might be
considered problematic, so texting was the better option at those times.
I mean I text all day and night anyway, but as far as nighttime, if I decide to call, I
will just text them first because I usually have this thing I don’t like calling people
late. So I text them at night and ask them, “Are you up or you busy? Because if
you’re not, I have to call you and tell you something about something.” (Kamia)
The third question represented the point at which adolescents began to
consider the content of their communication. If they perceived the communi-
cation as urgent and viewed their communication partner as adept with tex-
ting, then the adolescent would text.
Because like, I mean, when you text it’s kinda like, you know, an immediate
response. Whereas if you call, you have to wait for it to ring and if they don’t
answer then it’s the voice mail and then you have to go through that. (Kamia)
However, if the content was urgent but the adolescent perceived his or her
communication partner as lacking proficiency with texting (almost always a
parent in these cases), then the adolescent would choose to call. Mariah
explained her decision process this way,
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If I’m in class or in school, I’ll text my mom, but if it’s like, I’m outside of school
and I just need to get in contact with her real quick or something, I’ll call her if it’s,
like, something immediate.
After all, as Natasha noted regarding her mother: “I just, like, abbreviate
and she’ll type out the whole word, and I’m like, ‘oh I have to sit here and
read the whole thing?!’”
Assuming the content was not urgent, adolescents would also consider
whether they anticipated the communication would be lengthy or emotional in
some way. If it was not—and most examples provided by participants fell into
this category—then nearly all adolescents chose to text. In these situations,
which were generally devoid of limitations or complications, adolescents con-
sidered texting their default option. “I usually text them most of the time”
(Jessica). “I just like texting more” (Carmina). Under these conditions, it did
not seem to matter if the communication partner was adept with texting.
Patrice explained that when she needed to touch base with her mother about
something simple that was not time-sensitive, she would often text despite her
mother’s texting limitations. “Yeah, if I text her, all I said was ‘Can I stay after
school?’ ‘Cause you know, that’s simple ‘cause she can be like ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”
Finally, if adolescents judged the content of their communication to be
potentially lengthy or emotional, then the decision seemed to rest on personal
levels of comfort with this type of conversation. Those adolescents who had
no qualms about lengthy or emotional communication generally chose to call
for this type of conversation. “If it’s like a big deal and I know I have a lot to
say, Im’ma call” (Kamia). A few adolescents seemed to relish the excitement
of sharing gossip or frustrations via a call rather than a text, such as Stephanie,
Especially like when I have, like a problem, especially with a boy. Like there’s one
that keeps bugging me and he has a crush on me and I don’t like him like that and
I called [my friends] to like update them and just complain.
But those adolescents who were uncomfortable with the thought of having
this type of conversation chose to text. “If you were talking about something
really emotional, you might wanna text, because you can, like (pause), you
can more easily, like, not really lie, but like dry it from your emotions. Keep
it away from your emotions” (Brittany). As Courtney said frankly, “If I have
something personal to say, it’s easier to say by text message than actually
saying it to the person.”
Negative-case analysis on a subset of transcriptions indicated that the
decision-tree that emerged from our analysis accounted for all adolescents’
examples of their decisions to text or call.
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Perceiving Ease in Texting
After establishing how adolescents made the choice between texting and call-
ing, we continued our analysis by considering why they made the choices they
did. We were particularly focused on why, in the absence of specific barriers
or limitations, adolescents almost universally expressed preference for texting
over calling. Adolescents repeatedly used words such as “easier,” “faster,” and
“more convenient” to describe texting in comparison with calling. As Brad
explained regarding communication with his mother, “it’s like every time she
calls, it’s like, ‘Could you just text me?’ ‘Cause it takes like one-eighth of the
time.” Despite the overwhelming description of texting as “easy,” it became
clear that it was not necessarily that texting was always easier in a quantifiable
sense. When probed for specifics of why texting was easier, adolescents found
it difficult to articulate their reasons for this perception. “Texting is like so
much easier, or I wouldn’t say it’s easier, it’s just . . . I don’t know I guess it’s
like more convenient” (Natalie). “It’s quicker, I mean, it’s not quicker exactly.
Um (pause), I don’t know, it’s just, I don’t, I really don’t know. I can’t think of
a reason why I don’t call them” (Brittany). We determined that although tex-
ting may not be discernibly easier, adolescents perceived it as easier. Three
specific ways in which adolescents perceived texting to be easier than calling
emerged through our cross-case analysis.
Maximizing multitasking. Adolescents expressed that the ability to communi-
cate while engaging in other activities was a highly desirable characteristic of
texting. “Texting is easier. You can do other stuff while you’re texting, but
when you’re calling somebody it’s gotta be, like, all your focus” (Anna).
Participants reported that they frequently texted while working on home-
work, “It’s easier to do homework and text because neither one really dis-
tracts the other” (Courtney), while spending time with friends, and even
engaging in texting conversations with multiple partners simultaneously,
“you can hold multiple conversations at once, with several people” (Brad).
I have unlimited texting just for fact of me, like, going over. Because people like
to talk to me, so I like to respond, and I don’t like to talk on the phone aloud ‘cause
I’m too ADD for that (laughs). I like to do other things while I have conversations.
Minimizing forethought. Many participants noted that their preferences for
texting stemmed from the fact that they did not feel the need to stop and con-
sider what they intended to say before initiating the conversation, the way
they felt they needed to do with calling. “Cause when I talk on the phone
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usually I always run out of things to say after about five minutes. Yeah, you
got time to think about what you’re gonna say” (Ryan). The casual tone of
texting, as well as the time lag in responses, allowed adolescents to approach
texting in a far more relaxed manner than they did with calling. “When you
text, you can like text what you gotta say, leave it alone, and then when you
think of something, come back and start again” (Raven).
Accommodating peers. For many adolescents in the sample, texting was their
default primarily because they recognized that their peers preferred it to call-
ing and this social norm created a situation in which it was easier to text than
call. Adolescents indicated that most of their peers chose to text exclusively
rather than call. “I think it’s because they are too lazy to talk to me. They just
never call me” (Tiffany). When asked whether she preferred to talk or text
when communicating with friends, Mariah admitted, “Usually people text me
first, ‘cause I’m lazy.” When the conversation began as a text, adolescents
simply followed through with this type of communication. Adolescents also
noted that it was useful that their communication partners could respond
whenever it was convenient for them, rather than stopping whatever activity
they were currently engaged in to pick up a phone call. “People text multiple
people, so like, if you call them, they can’t receive a text from somebody else.
So, you might as well text them, cause they’re probably gonna get it quicker
that way” (Kevin).
Consistent with previous research, adolescents in this study reported that they
nearly always chose to text rather than call if they were free of restrictions.
They generally relied on calling only when they were required to accommo-
date specific circumstances such as parents’ lack of texting proficiency or the
anticipated content of communication. Participants spoke about texting as
easier than calling, even when they acknowledged that texting was not always
faster or more convenient. Analysis of adolescents’ reflections concerning
use of texting suggested it was the perception of ease that was appealing
about texting rather than a quantitative reality of ease.
Rational Versus Default Decision Making
Similar to previous studies, we found that adolescents’ decisions were based
on a combination of cognitive and social factors as well as a combination of
rational and default reasoning (Wolff & Crockett, 2011). The decision-tree
that emerged from our analyses provides an explanatory model of the series
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of questions adolescents ask themselves when making rational, reasoned
decisions regarding texting or talking. The emergence of this model suggests
that adolescents do give this issue purposeful thought and come to conclu-
sions based on answers to context-specific questions. However, the emer-
gence of the theme of perceived ease suggests that there is also a component
of this decision-making process that is less methodical, but rather is an auto-
matic default to what is believed to be the easiest available option—in this
case, texting. Together these findings provide a glimpse into the complex
decision-making processes occurring in adolescents’ daily communication
Constraints on Cell Phone Use
The social constraints imposed by location and time that guided adoles-
cents’ decisions were evident in our findings. The constraints of school
rules and norms were commonly cited as reasons adolescents chose to text
rather than call due to the ability to text surreptitiously. However, many of
the constraints adolescents perceived were less obvious. One of the primary
constraints evidenced in how and why adolescents decide whether to call or
text involved the characteristics and preferences of their communication
partners. For instance, there was a clear pattern of adolescents distinguish-
ing between parents and peers when deciding whether to call or text.
Adolescents perceived that their peers had strong preferences for texting,
and thus they claimed to make the choice to text in consideration of this
social norm.
Regarding communication with parents, previous research has found that
adolescents as well as their parents perceive adolescents to be more proficient
with communication technology than adults (Blair & Fletcher, 2011).
Research indicating that adolescents utilize texting options at rates that far
exceed those of adults supports this perception. Therefore, researchers have
attributed adolescents’ likelihood to call their parents to the fact that adults
lack the technological abilities of their adolescent children (Lenhart, Ling,
Campbell, & Purcell, 2010). The results of this study support this conclusion
by demonstrating that adolescents do indeed think about their parents’ lack of
texting skill when choosing to call instead of text. In the few cases in which
they mentioned peers who were not able or willing to text, participants
explained very similar processes in their decision making for communicating
with these peers. This suggests it is not something about the parent–child
relationship or parent characteristics that drives adolescents’ decisions to call
parents, but rather that lack of texting proficiency on the part of parents
serves as a constraint on adolescents’ choices.
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Another pattern of constraints that emerged in this study was related to
communication content. Previous research has indicated that adolescents are
likely to call peers only when their anticipated conversations are lengthy or
personal (Madell & Muncer, 2007). The results of our study suggest that this
pattern may be qualified by whether adolescents themselves are comfortable
with the possibility of a lengthy or personal conversation. The finding that
adolescents who were uncomfortable with the possibility of a long or inti-
mate conversation chose texting for these types of conversations is consistent
with studies indicating that individuals who are high in social anxiety report
utilizing texting as a means of maintaining intimacy in their relationships
(Reid & Reid, 2007). Therefore, adolescents’ own characteristics and prefer-
ences imposed constraints on their cell phone options.
Adolescents’ need to negotiate these constraints fits well with previously
examined hypotheses of convenience as a motive for adolescent texting
(Conti-Ramsden et al., 2010). However, rather than cost or availability as the
primary mechanisms of convenience, participants in this study valued the dis-
crete and nonintrusive qualities of texting as convenient for adapting to social
norms, school rules, and balancing personal preferences with social needs.
Rewards of Calling and Texting
Many researchers argue that adolescent decision making is highly moti-
vated by reward and a body of recent experimental research supports this
argument. Immediate rewards have proven to be particularly motivating for
adolescents (Cauffman et al., 2010; O’Brien, Albert, Chein, & Steinberg,
2011) and texting is inherently immediate. The moment the thought of com-
municating with someone occurs to adolescents, they can send a message,
and are likely to receive a response just as rapidly (assuming their commu-
nication partners are sufficiently proficient in texting). With texting, there
is no need to wait for the phone to ring, wait for someone to answer, and go
through the usual preliminary small talk all before ever asking your ques-
tion or making your comment, and there is certainly no risk of waiting on a
voicemail system and leaving a message. In addition, our results indicate
that texting generally does not require the prior preparation that making a
call can necessitate. Adolescents do not need to think about where their
communication partner is or what they might be interrupting, they do not
need to think through what they are going to say and how their partner
might respond, they do not even need to stop whatever activities they are
engaged in themselves. Thus, texting provides immediate rewards that call-
ing does not. It may be that our participants used words such as “easy” to
describe texting, but in fact were referring to the feeling of instant
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408 Youth & Society 47(3)
gratification that texting provided and either did not have the vocabulary to
express this or were not consciously aware of how the drive for immediate
reward was motivating their choices.
Inherent in communication technology research is the awareness that find-
ings may be rendered obsolete as technology advances. Specific to the study
of cell phones, advances currently are underway regarding the growing use of
internet-based communication via cell phone as well as advances in voice-
command texting. We must be aware that these advances could alter the
applicability of our findings to future cell phone use. However, as Ling
(2010) stated, even though communication technology is moving forward,
“In all likelihood, there will be a strong need for texting or at least mobile,
asynchronous, point-to-point, text based mediation” (p. 289). In other words,
even if texting takes a somewhat different form in the future, we can expect
that it will transform into a type of communication with many of the same
essential characteristics, which will likely require many of the same types of
decision-making mechanisms as outlined in the current study.
Future research should consider whether the findings of this study are gen-
eralizable. Although the sample size of the current study was appropriate for
the type of in-depth analysis that we conducted, we are also aware that it
included a relatively small number of adolescents. We did analyze our results
for differences by race, parent education, and gender, and found that our find-
ings were equally applicable regardless of these factors. It should be noted
that our sample had a gender imbalance in which more girls than boys partici-
pated. Although this is a limitation, we do not believe it to be a fatal flaw due
to emerging evidence that there are relatively few differences in the ways that
boys and girls utilize cell phones. Some studies have found girls use their cell
phones more often than boys (Lenhart, 2012), although this is not a consistent
finding (Underwood, Rosen, More, Ehrenreich, & Gentsch, 2012), and aside
from frequency, relatively few gender differences have emerged (Colley,
Todd, White, & Turner-Moore, 2010; Lenhart, 2012). Nevertheless, the
results of this study should not be viewed as representative of all adolescents,
but rather as reflecting the perceptions of this sample.
The current study demonstrates that adolescents engage in a rational deci-
sion-making process when choosing between texting and calling for their
communication needs. Adolescents assess the situation logically, taking into
account their environment, the content of their communication, the skill and
preference of their communication partner, and their own preferences.
However, when adolescents feel that their communication is free of such
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Blair et al. 409
limitations, they default to texting with very little conscious thought about
that choice; instead, it is a choice based on perceptions of ease and habit.
These results add to our growing understanding of how and why adolescents
make everyday communication decisions, adolescents’ perceptions of their
communication processes, and the degree to which they consider specific
constraints in their lives as barriers to their communication needs.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
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Author Biographies
Bethany L. Blair, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Human
Development and Family Studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Her research focuses on individual and contextual influences on adolescents’ peer
Anne C. Fletcher, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Human
Development and Family Studies at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Her research focuses on parental and peer influences on adolescent adjustment.
Erin R. Gaskin received her BS in Human Development and Family Studies from the
University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is currently a graduate student in
Family and Human Development at Arizona State University. Her research focuses
on minority families and the contextual factors that play into resilience in these
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... This dissociation may be explained by the different relational purposes of phone calls and text messages serve. While adolescents typically reserve conversations with parents and discussions about major life events for phone conversations (Madell & Muncer, 2007), text messaging among adolescents is used to maintain and reinforce existing bonds with close friends (Blair et al., 2015;Bryant et al., 2006). It is possible that during times of more severe or ongoing stress, adolescents pull for more substantive social support by way of phone calls, while reducing engagement in text messages that serve a relational maintenance function and reflect more superficial communication. ...
... However, the current research should be considered in light of its limitations. The interpretation of changes in the frequency of social communication is limited in that it is unknown whether communication is with a peer or parent, and this relationship type influences communication method and support seeking behavior (Blair et al., 2015;Bryant et al., 2006;Madell & Muncer, 2007). Moreover, perceived social support from parents as compared to peers during adolescence could differentially impact risk for depression (Stice et al., 2004). ...
Stressful life events (SLEs) are strongly associated with the emergence of adolescent anxiety and depression, but the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood, especially at the within-persons level. We investigated how adolescent social communication (i.e., frequency of calls and texts) following SLEs relates to changes in internalizing symptoms in a multitimescale, intensive, year-long study ( N = 30; n = 355 monthly observations; n ≈ 5,000 experience-sampling observations). Within-persons increases in SLEs were associated with receiving more calls than usual at both the month and moment levels and making more calls at the month level. Increased calls were prospectively associated with worsening internalizing symptoms at the month level only, suggesting that SLEs rapidly influence phone communication patterns, but these communication changes may have a more protracted, cumulative influence on internalizing symptoms. Finally, increased incoming calls prospectively mediated the association between SLEs and anxiety at the month level. We identify adolescent social communication fluctuations as a potential mechanism conferring risk for stress-related internalizing psychopathology.
... While many youth did not have access to a phone, most did have access to a computer at some point during the day for virtual school. Even those who did have access to a phone voiced a text or chat preference, a fact that was confirmed in a recent study on adolescents text vs. call decisions, particularly surrounding content that is emotional and uncomfortable (Blair et al., 2015). Given this apparent generational preference for text-based services, as well as the safety and access concerns of verbal telephonebased modalities identified in our research, youth facing initiatives, including state run CPS reporting, should consider incorporating or adopting multi-modal access strategies which include a text or chat option. ...
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The purpose of this study was to identify changes in family conflict and abuse dynamics during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders from the perspectives of youth calling a national child abuse hotline. We analyzed text and chat transcripts from Childhelp’s National Child Abuse Hotline from May–June 2020 that were flagged as coming from a child with a COVID-19-related concern (N = 105). Thematic analysis was used to identify COVID-19 related influences of family conflict as well as how COVID-19 constraints influenced coping and survival for youth reporting distress or maltreatment to the hotline. Family conflict most commonly disclosed stemmed from parental or child mental health concerns, often manifesting in escalated child risk taking behaviors, parental substance use, and violence in the home. Conflict was also mentioned surrounding caregiver issues with child productivity while sheltering-in-place, commonly related to school or chores. Youth often voiced feeling unable to find relief from family conflict, exacerbated from physical distance from alternative social supports, technological isolation, and limited contact with typical safe places or supportive adults. To cope and survive, youth and crisis counselors found creative home-based coping skills and alternative reporting mechanisms. Understanding the unique impact of COVID-19 on youth in homes with family conflict and abuse can point to areas for intervention to ensure we are protecting the most vulnerable as many continue to shelter-in-place. In particular, this study revealed the importance of online hotlines and reporting mechanisms to allow more youth to seek out the help and professional support they need.
... Participants also reported control over the exclusion of others, which provided them with a measure of agency over their text-messaging interactions. Furthermore, it must be noted that the choice of communication mode is partner-dependent (Blackstone et al., 2007;Blair et al., 2015) and the present study highlighted that not all communication partners with whom the participants interacted used text messaging, especially not the older individuals. ...
This study explored the interactional aspects of text messaging on mobile phones for youth with complex communication needs. A qualitative case study design was used to investigate aspects such as reasons, place, timing of communication, content and communication partners. Data were gathered from seven youth with complex communication needs (primary participants) and one communication partner for each youth (secondary participants). In addition to using a questionnaire and tests to obtain participant background information, four data collection methods were used: (a) face-to-face interviews with the primary participants via text messaging, (b) researcher observations of these participants interacting via text messaging, (c) an asynchronous text-messaging focus group involving all seven primary participants, and (d) asynchronous interviews with the secondary participants via text messaging. The thematic data analysis highlighted numerous interactional benefits, most notably that text messaging offered the youth with complex communication needs a means of expressing themselves that was easier than face-to-face interactions. It also emphasizes interaction symmetry with a wide range of communication partners including groups, the privacy to interact with others beyond their often-restricted environments (absent presence), and a measure of anonymity and control over interactions. The study concluded that text messaging provides youth with complex communication needs with new communication possibilities.
... Text messages make up about 94% of these events, with the remainder being calls. Despite this imbalance in volume, phone calls remain an important medium for communication and carry an emotional weight, especially among the younger population captured in the study [15]. Thus, we choose to include both calls and text messages. ...
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Relationships between people constantly evolve, altering interpersonal behavior and defining social groups. Relationships between nodes in social networks can be represented by a tie strength, often empirically assessed using surveys. While this is effective for taking static snapshots of relationships, such methods are difficult to scale to dynamic networks. In this paper, we propose a system that allows for the continuous approximation of relationships as they evolve over time. We evaluate this system using the NetSense study, which provides comprehensive communication records of students at the University of Notre Dame over the course of four years. These records are complemented by semesterly ego network surveys, which provide discrete samples over time of each participant's true social tie strength with others. We develop a pair of powerful machine learning models (complemented by a suite of baselines extracted from past works) that learn from these surveys to interpret the communications records as signals. These signals represent dynamic tie strengths, accurately recording the evolution of relationships between the individuals in our social networks. With these evolving tie values, we are able to make several empirically derived observations which we compare to past works.
... For many, it has become the preferable choice over synchronous alternatives. For example, the youth are showing a trend of preferring messaging over phone calls [3] and students have been found to rather communicate with faculty in an asynchronous manner instead of traditional or virtual office hours [21]. Also before synchronous meetings can even be held, they are often first agreed to asynchronously. ...
Full-text available
Online courses often select asynchronous tools for teamwork as it allows temporal freedom for students who might come from different time zones or have busy schedules. These solutions work better with larger groups, where due to the quantity of participants, it is easier to get replies faster. In this study, we investigate challenges that arise in asynchronous discussions with small group (4–5 participants). Empirical data was collected from the UNIPS pedagogical employee training online course Becoming a Teacher and its teamwork period, where Google Docs was used as a discussion platform by 42 students. We observed that (1) discussion activity peaked around deadlines (2) students often came online in vain as their team members had not replied yet and (3) when students were online simultaneously, they were not able to take advantage of this by engaging in synchronous communication. As solutions, we propose improving the synchrony of the communication via more structured instructions and increasing the affordances of the communication tools.
... Additionally, a unit increase in the frequency of texting/browsing while driving increases the corresponding probability of multitasking by 0.046. While more research is needed to confirm these results, some studies have reported that people perceive texting and talking as interchangeable behaviors (e.g., Reid & Reid, 2007), but under most conditions texting is the preferred option (Blair, Fletcher, & Gaskin, 2015). ...
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Social tie maintenance has always had cognitive and emotional costs and has been leading to uneven distribution of communication volume among interaction partners of individuals. This distribution, known as social signature, is assumed to be stable for each person. Availability of digital traces of human communication allows testing whether this assumption is true and whether it holds in specific channels of computer-mediated communication. In this paper, we investigate private messaging on a popular social networking website on a sample of 39 users and 8063 communication partners of those users over the period of 18 months. We find that this communication channel does not reduce cognitive costs as the overall number of users’ active contacts, on average, is equivalent to the cognitive limit known as Dunbar’s number. Confirming some previous research, we show that the volume of communication is unevenly distributed, related to emotional closeness, and that changes in this distribution (that is, the changes in social signature) over time within an individual are smaller than the distances between social signatures of different individuals. However, as an absolutely novel finding, we demonstrate that the changes within individuals are statistically significant, thus questioning the concept of social signature as a stable phenomenon.
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Artificially intelligent (AI) agents increasingly occupy roles once served by humans in computer-mediated communication (CMC). Technological affordances like emoji give interactants (humans or bots) the ability to partially overcome the limited nonverbal information in CMC. However, despite the growth of chatbots as conversational partners, few CMC and human-machine communication (HMC) studies have explored how bots’ use of emoji impact perceptions of communicator quality. This study examined the relationship between emoji use and observers’ impressions of interpersonal attractiveness, CMC competence, and source credibility; and whether impressions formed of human versus chatbot message sources were different. Results demonstrated that participants rated emoji-using chatbot message sources similarly to human message sources, and both humans and bots are significantly more socially attractive, CMC competent, and credible when compared to verbal-only message senders. Results are discussed with respect to the CASA paradigm and the human-to-human interaction script framework.
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The article aims to make a study about the transformation of youth´s learning provided by the use of technological devices as pedagogical resources based on the studies presented in GT’s Education and Communication in ANPED and Communication and Education in Intercom between the years of 2004 and 2014. The research builds reflections that deals with the cultural mediations inserted in a postindustrial educational context in which social relations are conducted increasingly through communication devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones. This recurrent use of technological devices has produced phenomena previously unknown and shown that the advent of new tools contributes to the development of new cultural skills, especially in young students.
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Cellular telephones have become an increasingly prevalent feature of contemporary American life, with usage often beginning during early adolescence. With this in mind, twenty 7th graders and their mothers participated in separate qualitative interviews regarding early adolescents’ use of cell phones as well as perceived risks and benefits of such use. Analyses indicated that early adolescents and their mothers imbued cell phones with a variety of psychological meanings. These meanings included cell phones as a source of connection to family and friends, cell phones as facilitators of adolescent autonomy development, and cell phones as sources of social status.These findings are discussed in relation to psychosocial developmental tasks occurring in early adolescence.
To be known, and to know others, is critical to all social relationships. This topic of 'disclosure processes' not only pertains to people's disclosure of daily thoughts and emotions, but to their disclosure of many controversial problems in contemporary society, such as divorce, AIDS and sexual abuse. The bulk of research has focused on disclosure processes in adults and relatively little attention has been given to that phenomena in children and adolescents. The collection of chapters in this book redresses the balance by systematically examining disclosure processes in children and adolescents. This covers the knowledge of how, to whom, and the conditions under which children and adolescents reveal their personal thoughts and emotions.
Has the cell phone forever changed the way people communicate? The mobile phone is used for "real time" coordination while on the run, adolescents use it to manage their freedom, and teens "text" to each other day and night. The mobile phone is more than a simple technical innovation or social fad, more than just an intrusion on polite society. This book, based on world-wide research involving tens of thousands of interviews and contextual observations, looks into the impact of the phone on our daily lives. The mobile phone has fundamentally affected our accessibility, safety and security, coordination of social and business activities, and use of public places. Based on research conducted in dozens of countries, this insightful and entertaining book examines the once unexpected interaction between humans and cell phones, and between humans, period. The compelling discussion and projections about the future of the telephone should give designers everywhere a more informed practice and process, and provide researchers with new ideas to last years.
Has the cell phone forever changed the way people communicate? The mobile phone is used for â?real timeâ coordination while on the run, adolescents use it to manage their freedom, and teens â?textâ to each other day and night. The mobile phone is more than a simple technical innovation or social fad, more than just an intrusion on polite society. This book, based on world-wide research involving tens of thousands of interviews and contextual observations, looks into the impact of the phone on our daily lives. The mobile phone has fundamentally affected our accessibility, safety and security, coordination of social and business activities, and use of public places. Based on research conducted in dozens of countries, this insightful and entertaining book examines the once unexpected interaction between humans and cell phones, and between humans, period. The compelling discussion and projections about the future of the telephone should give designers everywhere a more informed practice and process, and provide researchers with new ideas to last years.