Results of a new British study may have children and teens LOL – laughing out loud or ROTFL – rolling on the floor laughing. Contrary to what their parents and teachers might have suggested, new research shows that text messaging actually improves children’s literacy skills.

The study showed that children who were heavy users of mobile phone abbreviations such as plz (please), LOL (laughing out loud) and l8ter (later) - were unlikely to have problems with reading and spelling. It was also discovered that the levels of “textism” use could determine the levels of reading ability and phonological awareness that children would reach by the end of the academic year.

The research was conducted by Dr Clare Wood, Reader in Developmental Psychology at Coventry University and was partly funded by the British Academy. The theory behind Dr. Wood’s research relates to an important early developmental skill that is associated with learning to read and spell - phonological awareness. Children who have high levels of phonological awareness are able to hear and manipulate different sounds in speech. They are also able to detect rhyming words or tell what word remains if a letter is removed from a word.

Dr. Wood said, “We began studying in this area initially to see if there was any evidence of association between text abbreviation use and literacy skills at all, after such a negative portrayal of the activity in the media. We were surprised to learn that not only was the association strong, but that textism use was actually driving the development of phonological awareness and reading skill in children. Texting also appears to be a valuable form of contact with written English for many children, which enables them to practice reading and spelling on a daily basis.”

Common text abbreviations that children used included – cutting the end off a word – bro for brother; cutting letters from the middle or end of words - txt, plz, hmwrk or goin, comin, workin; using letter and number homophones - 4, 2, l8r, u, r, c; and using non-conventional phonetic spelling - nite, fone or skool.

The sample group of children was aged from 8-12 years of age and was observed over an academic year. As the sample group of students progressed towards Year 6, it was observed that the number of students who used text messaging rose from 21% in Year 4, to 47% in Year 6. This suggests that children may need a more sophisticated level of literacy to be successful in creating text messages.

There were 63 children who participated in the study, (27 boys and 36 girls) aged between Year Level 4 and 7. Of these children, 81% owned their own mobile phone; the others had regular access to a phone belonging to someone else. Within the sample, the average age at which children a mobile phone was 8.4 years, with the youngest receiving a phone at five years of age. A larger-scale report on the research findings will be released next year.

So for now, it appears parents can relax about their children and teens sending text messages - apparently they do know that “l8er” is actually spelt “later”…just don’t let your teens text and drive.