Fast fingered kids
Is predictive text breeding a generation that shoots first, asks question later?

Learning to make sensible decisions is one of the marks of an adult. Weighing the pros and cons, making those lists and choosing according to a predicted outcome is one way we try to control our world. But what if you spent most of your time having your thoughts interpreted and predicted for you by a clever computer that fits in your pocket? Would you expect all decisions to be come with as little effort?

Predictive text may be making kids fast but thoughtless, says new research from Australia. Carried out by Professor Michael Abramson of Monash University, the study of 11 to 14 year-olds showed that the use of predictive text was affecting the way their brains work.

It always been clear that you have to think quickly to make sense of predictive text, which will offer the word ‘book’ if you type in ‘cool’. Unless your brain is working at hyperspeed, you could end up having some strange text conversations.

But for kids there’s an unexpected negative side effect from getting too friendly with the clever brain in your phone that thinks it knows what you’re saying. According to Abramson, this quick decision-making spills over into everyday life and can make kids more likely to be impulsive and thoughtless.

The report was referring to impulsive answers given in IQ tests. But it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where quick, impulsive decisions could lead to long-term regrets. For children used to shooting from the hip thanks to predictive text, careful and methodical decision-making is a skill that may have to be consciously introduced. These kids may struggle even more than we do to concentrate in the attention-hungry world we live in.

Do you even know if your child is using predictive text or not? According to the 2009 Parent24 survey, 37% of pre-teens have unsupervised cellphone access in metropolitan South African families. This increases to 75% for teens. So the first step for most parents would be to investigate how their child is using the phone.

And then perhaps suggest that the predictive text be switched off some of the time. Because in some cases, a little impulsiveness might lead to much worse ills than the odd misplaced word.

Is predictive text the problem, or are children impulsive by nature?

Read more by Adele Hamilton.

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