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411 on texting, family relationships: Family studies major conducts pioneering research
Debbie Epping
Antelope Staff

Denise Rice may be a non-traditional student with three children and a full-time job, but as a senior, the family studies major has flourished and managed to do something many traditional students don’t tackle as undergraduates.

Rice has conducted original research and on a topic relevant to all college students and their families: text messaging and the effect on families.

Rice has been selected to present this research at a national symposium and hopes to continue her research in the future. Because her own experiences make her uniquely qualified, when Rice debated about a research topic, she selected something that affected her personally.

Dr. Sylvia Asay, associate professor of family studies, recognizes the tremendous life experience Rice brings to the table.“ She has skills that traditional students haven’t developed at this point in their lives,” Asay said.
Asay said Rice has taken full advantage of the resources available during her time at UNK. “From the beginning of her studies at UNK, Denise was always a critical thinker and one who had more questions than answers. Many times it was the questions she asked in the classroom that stimulated other students’ thinking about a particular issue or concept.”

Research proposal: Effects of text messaging

After taking challenging courses and advice from Asay, Rice proposed a research hypothesis and was awarded a fellowship stipend. “It paid $1,000 over the year, and I thought text messaging would be kind of fun, so that’s how it started,” Rice said.
Rice’s research examined the effects of text messaging on family relationships—she hypothesized it would bring families closer. “I had three adolescents, and we texted back and forth more than we ever talked on the phone,” Rice said.

Rice put together a questionnaire that was then advertised on Facebook and taken by a random sampling of 75 participants—the majority being between 19 and 24 years old.

The results revealed texting is used to convey information and make plans with both friends and family. However, participants rarely used texting to fill time or build relationships with family, though they did so regularly with friends.
Rice concluded the high tendency to build non-family relationships through texting most likely has either no effect or a negative impact on family relationships.

Junior organizational communications and theatre major Brittany Greunke from Winside tends to agree.

“I text my parents more for informational purposes, but text my friends more just to pass time,” Greunke said.

Research results analyzed, presented

Rice’s research is pioneering, as most studies have not considered the effects of text messaging on family relationships. However, Rice realizes the study has limitations such as the small sample size and factors such as the closeness of the family relationships prior to cell phone usage.

Rice presented her research at the UNK Undergraduate Research Symposium last fall and is scheduled to share her findings at the National Conference of Undergrad Research (NCUR) at the University of Montana in April.

In addition, Rice’s research has been accepted and will be published in the upcoming University of Nebraska at Kearney Undergraduate Research Journal. Rice hopes to expand her research this summer if a grant can be secured for additional funds.

Uses, value of research   

Rice recognizes the value of her research beyond the classroom as she began her career in December 2009 as the community services coordinator for Buffalo and Kearney counties. A large part of that job is referrals and helping qualify people in need for different programs.

“The whole realm of working with families changes so quickly, and there’s always new research. If you don’t know how to read it, you’re not going to be able to find out answers for the people you’re working with,” Rice said.

Rice offers advice to other students who have the opportunity to take on a research project.

“I wish other people would not be afraid to do it and just give it a chance,” Rice said.

Asay also encourages students to take advantage of the research opportunities UNK offers undergraduate students.

“In the past, the full research process was not typically part of the undergraduate experience, but that is changing. Graduate schools now have expectations that entering students have been exposed to the development, data collection, analysis and display of research,” Asay said.


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