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How Texting Changes the Way Kids Communicate

They're texting. They're instant-messaging. They're texting while instant-messaging.

As any mom who's found herself driving a car full of cell phone-tapping tweens or friending her firstborn on Facebook knows, today's kids have more ways to stay connected than ever before. And, boy, are they using them. According to industry research, 61 percent of virtual-world visitors are between 3 and 11, and 22 percent of kids ages 6 to 9 already have their own cell phone. In a study in the journal Pediatrics, 58 percent of kids 10 to 15 listed a form of communication as the major reason to go online. These are things that make moms go Hmmm. We all realize that this generation is going to have to be tech-savvy to be successful. But between social networking, interactive gaming, web communities, IMing, and everything -- especially texting -- that comes with cell phones, it feels like our kids are spending an awful lot of time engaging others through a screen at exactly the same time as they're supposed to be learning to form and maintain relationships.

Should we worry? It's hard to tell. Scientists are just starting to study the social effects of these new types of communication, and much of their research focuses on adults and teens, not kids. By poking through those studies, though, it is possible to glean a few likely answers -- and, it turns out, there's much to be hopeful about.