Hyper-texting teens' troubling behaviors
Research reported Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association suggests that teens' excessive text-messaging is linked to their increased risk of tobacco, drug and alcohol use, fighting and having sex.
Excessive texting, called "hyper-texting" in the study and defined as texting more than 120 messages per day on school days, was reported by nearly 20 percent of the 4,257 Midwestern high school students included in the survey conducted by lead author Scott Frank. Those hyper-texters were twice as likely as less-texty kids to have tried alcohol, for instance, and more than three times more likely to have had sex.
The associations held even when the study controlled for the fact that many of those hyper-texting kids were of low socioeconomic status, were minorities or had no father at home. (Similar results were found among the smaller group -- 11.5 percent -- of students who reported spending more than three hours a day on social networking sites.)
The press release announcing the research includes this unfortunate quote from Frank:
"The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers."
But the material presented at the conference makes clear that the study claims no cause-and-effect relationship between texting and the reported behaviors. And Frank himself told me on the phone that, while he takes responsibility for that quote's being in the press release, "I've tried to communicate with all the people I've talked with that the study was not intended to show causality."
"It doesn't show that every kid who texts a lot will have problems," he said, adding that it does indeed suggest that kids who text a lot are more likely to engage in those risky behaviors than peers who text less.
In the end, Frank told me, "It does depend on who they're texting with. Their choice of friends in the single most important thing. The more texting they do, the more potential for exposure to high-tech peer pressure." That pressure, he suggests, can lead to their attending events and being involved in things they shouldn't.
Frank suggested to me that parents might use the release of this data as a moment to ask themselves "How does this relate to my kids, and should we provoke a conversation about it?"
I'm not an alarmist about texting; it's a reality of life, and there's no turning back the clock on the phenomenon. But as the parent of two -- okay, I'll admit it -- hyper-texting teens, I can sure see the need to limit it. And, now that Frank mentions it, talking about these potential implications with the kids sounds like a very good idea.
Or maybe I'll just have to text them about this.
Do your teens text a lot? Do you restrict their texting in any way? Do you worry about texting's adverse effects? Please comment below and take today's poll.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| November 11, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Alcohol and Drugs, Family Health, Parenting, Social Media, Teens
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