Study: Hyper-Texting by Teens Linked to Risky Behavior

CYBERSPACE—Just-released research indicates that teens who engage in hyper-texting—texting more than 120 times a day at school—are more likely than their text-less peers to engage in risky behavior such as smoking, drinking and sexual activity.

The findings were part of a study conducted by Dr. Scott Frank, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, who presented his findings today at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) during an afternoon session titled, “Hyper-texting and hyper-networking: A new health risk category for teens?”

According to an announcement by APHA, “New data released today reveal that the dangers of excessive texting among teens are not limited to the road. Hyper-texting and hyper-networking are now giving rise to a new health risk category for this age group.”

The study was conducted last year at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area, where more than 4,200 students took part in confidential paper surveys.

“Hyper-texting, defined as texting more than 120 messages per day on school days, was reported by19.8 percent of teens surveyed, many of whom were female, from lower socioeconomic status, minority and had no father in the home,’ continued the APHA announcement. “Drawing from the data, teens who are hyper-texters are 40 percent more likely to have tried cigarettes, two times more likely to have tried alcohol, 43 percent more likely to be binge drinkers, 41 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs, 55 percent more likely to have been in a physical fight, nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to have had sex and 90 percent more likely to report four or more sexual partners.”

Hyper-networking, defined as spending more than three hours per school day on social networking web sites, also was reported by 11.5 percent of students. It was associated with “higher odds ratios for stress, depression, suicide, substance use, fighting, poor sleep, poor academics, television watching and parental permissiveness.”

According to the Associated Press, “The study's authors aren't suggesting that ‘hyper-texting’ leads to sex, drinking or drugs, but say it's startling to see an apparent link between excessive messaging and that kind of risky behavior.” The study concludes, rather, that some teens are more susceptible to peer pressure than others and also have permissive or absent parents.

However, that conclusion does not totally square with comments made by the study’s author, Dr. Frank, who said, “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. This should be a wake-up call for parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting and driving, but by discouraging excessive use of the cell phone or social websites in general.”

All caveats about direct connections aside, that sounds very much as if the good doctor is in fact making a direct connection between “hyper-texting” and the unwanted behavior. A Time magazine article more reasonably suggests that “more studies are needed to better understand the link.”

One can only hope reason prevails before state legislators start introducing bills outlawing texting by teens completely.