$100,000 National Texting Contest: Surely No Incentive for Kids to Stop!

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44890, NEW YORK, NEW YORK - Tuesday September 14 2010. Sarah Jessica Parker keeps it casual as she walks son James to school in a pair of cut-off jeans. On the way home, the smiling actress looked enthralled with her Blackberry before stopping at Gourmet Grange for some grocery shopping. Photograph:  Wagner Az, PacificCoastNews.com *FEE MUST BE AGREED PRIOR TO USAGE E-TABLET/IPAD & MOBILE PHONE APP PUBLISHING REQUIRES ADDITIONAL FEES**

If I discovered that my fifteen-year-old was texting 400 times a day, I’d likely take away her cell phone. If Kate Moore’s mother took her cell phone away, she would have deprived her daughter of $50,000 and the title of 2009 LG U.S. National Texting Champion. This year, the 2010 LG U.S. National Texting Championship is set for next Tuesday, and according to CNN.com, is quite an involved and highly-competitive affair, where finalists must prove their metal through a preliminary competition that involves texting on-site at concerts, providing text alerts for televisions shows and texting from online tournaments. LG has upped the ante from $50,000 to $100,000 for this year’s champion.

I don’t know how I feel about this competition -- a contest that awards contestants who prove that they are the best in the country at texting while blindfolded (I have several students who are experts at this. They text under their desks all the while smiling in my lecturing face); texting difficult passages (like the kid who got kicked out of our school for copying the test questions by texting while testing); and texting while others attempt to distract them (evidently, this involves human emoticons dancing around the competitors while they do their lightning fast thumb-thing.)

The sponsor of the event is LG, the same company that launched Text Education, a program which advocates safety with texting. The program, according to LG’s website, endeavors to

… tackle pressing issues such as tween and teen sexting, managing children’s phone usage, the importance of self-esteem in a wireless world, recognizing potentially harmful and hurtful mobile phone behavior, and other concerns facing parents and their children. A first-of-its-kind program among mobile phone manufacturers in the U.S., LG Text Ed will reach parents through a variety of online and public service type marketing platforms.

A key component to the Text Ed program, they claim, is an advisory council of leading experts who specialize in teen and tween behavior. So what do we think the experts would say about a fifteen-year-old texting 400 times a day, as last year’s champion, Kate Moore of Des Moines, claims to do? And for that matter, whether or not a national $100,000 competition does more to encourage the very unsafe and ill-advised phone use LG’s Text Ed is designed to prevent? Experts would likely say that 400 texts a day is excessive, and this kind of overuse may be causing all manner of ill effects -- such as diminished ability to communicate in person and even physical changes and injury. Can you say “Teen Texting Tendonitis” ten times fast?

I know perhaps I should lighten up. The idea that folks (lots of folks -- last year over 250,000 contestants entered) would compete for such an event as a texting contest is a little goofy to me and kind of funny. It engenders one of those parental head shakes. It’s so American. Not just so American, it’s so human. We all love to compete. And in this sense, the texting competition can join the burgeoning ranks of random worldwide contests. You’ve got, for example, the Air Guitar World Championships held in Sylvain, apparently for those who never had the time to learn to play the real thing; and the Hemp Olympics, which is said to include Joint Rolling, Bong Throwing and an Iron Person competition, where contestants crawl through tunnels dragging large bags of fertilizer.

There’s always the Wife Carrying Contest in Finland, or the Beer Can Regatta Contest , which is a major production in Darwin, Australia, or rather THE major production in Darwin, Australia. And then there are the ever-popular throwing contests, like the Possum Throwing Contest, the latest and currently controversial offering from New Zealand. And finally the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships, where 25 contestants throw their cell phones discus-style. This competition also involves, as an alternative, a cell phone juggling contest. These, I suppose, are handy choices in the event you are not so good at texting.

And though I am sure it takes some practice and training to build a floating boat from beer cans or to run 253.5 meters with your wife on your back, my sneaky suspicion is that phone texting champs do not do extra training. They acquire their skill by texting way too much in the course of their every day. If last year’s champ was a senior citizen retiree or some zealous contributor to the Text for Haiti Campaign, I might not bat an eyelash. I might even be proud of him or her. But the fact that the person who triumphed over 250,000 other contestants was a fifteen-year-old girl is troubling. How LG reconciles its Text Ed directives for safety with this competition’s endorsement of cell phone abuse by young teenagers is a mystery to me.

I’m. just. say’in!

Gina Carroll, author of 24 Things You Can Do with Social Media to Help Get into College, also blogs at ThinkActParent.com and Tortured by Teenagers.

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