Do Teens Have a Texting Problem?

Have you made eye contact with the teens around you lately, or are their eyes glued to their phone? Texting is a teenage craze. The Nielson Company estimates that American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 texts each month – or almost 80 messages per day – during last year. A study conducted by the American Public Health Association found that 1 in 5 teens are hyper-texters, which means they text more than 120 times a day. You can easily catch teenagers texting at restaurants, while crossing busy streets, underneath their desks in their classrooms, late at night when their parents are asleep, while driving, at the family dinner table… pretty much everywhere.

Texting is fun and helps teens stay connected, but there are always consequences to doing too much of anything. As a society, we don’t want to take away teens’ phones or stop the wonderful advancement of technology, but we do need to be mindful of helping adolescents find a good balance in their lives.  If they don’t learn how to make positive decisions when they are young, they will grow up to become adults who make poor choices.

Texting is leading to a combination of constant distraction and sleep deprivation that results in teens experiencing falling grades, stress, and repetitive stress injury. Below we examine some of the major impacts rampant texting is taking on our youth.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing. While all distractions (talking on a cell phone, eating, drinking, grooming, etc.) can endanger drivers’ safety, texting is the most alarming because it involves taking your eyes off the road, taking your hands off the wheel, and taking your mind off what you’re doing.

The U.S. Transportation Department reports that distracted driving-related crashes claimed 5,474 lives and led to 448,000 traffic injuries across the U.S. in 2009. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sixteen percent of all ‘under age 20’ drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted while driving. Researchers believe the epidemic of distracted driving is likely far larger than these reports indicate, because police reports in many states still do not routinely document whether distraction was a factor in vehicle crashes, making it more difficult to know the full extent of the problem. Clearly texting and driving are not a good mix.

Risky Behaviors

A study conducted at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland metropolitan area found teens who text at least 120 times per day, are nearly three-and-a-half times more likely to have had sex than their peers who text less often. They were also more likely to binge drink, use illegal drugs or have been in a physical fight. The findings were based on a confidential questionnaire of 4,200 students in 2009.

To make matters worse, teens are engaging in sexting. Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phone or instant messenger. This is an enormous problem among youth, which we covered in another blog:

Sleep Deprivation

Youth are staying up late to text to each other in the wee hours of the morning. Teens have reported placing their phones on vibrate and sleeping with them tucked under their thighs so that they will wake up every time they receive a message. An online survey by Teenage Research Unlimited discovered that almost one quarter of teens in a relationship have communicated with a boyfriend or girlfriend hourly between midnight and 5 a.m. via cell phone or texting. One in six communicated 10 or more times an hour through the night.

The problem is that late-night texting is causing sleep deprivation in teens which translates into big problems during the day. A study at JFK Medical Center founds that, in addition to general fatigue, kids who texted or surfed the internet late into the night were more likely to say they suffered from anxiety, depression, ADHD and learning difficulties. Sleep deprivation can cause negative consequences like obesity, Type II diabetes, hypertension, and memory impairment. Studies have also shown that individuals who do not get enough sleep have the same mental impairment in judgment and reaction time as someone who is drunk. Besides, feeling tired all the time impacts a person’s quality of life.

Relational Skills Declining

Adolescence is a time to find oneself. It’s a stressful period where teens struggle under peer pressure, parental pressure and their own desire to find their individuality. The problem with texting is twofold: (1) Teens are so busy texting that they don’t have enough time to process their pressures or have enough peace to consider who they are and who they want to be; and (2) Teens cannot escape peer pressure when they are at home and their need for validation is fed by the constant contact with their peers.

Texting reduces their ability and confidence in engaging one-on-one with people. They hide behind messages and often say things with less tact when they are not face to face with someone. This can inadvertently lead to bullying. Teens are missing out on the chance to practice good communication skills – their ability to write and spell, to have a full conversation, and to discuss feelings is all suffering when they are texting too much.

Best Advice for Parents

For many teens, text messaging is a primary form of communication. It’s a quick, easy and private way for them to make plans, gossip and stay in touch. While clearly there are some potential pitfalls with texting and it certainly cannot take the place of a face-to-face conversation, text messaging can help parents open new lines of communication with their teen on their terms. It’s a non-confrontational way to start conversations about sensitive topics like stress in school or concern about curfews. It’s also another way to show your support and stay connected to teens and tweens. Surveys show that more than half of teens who text message with their parents think it has improved their relationship. So send your teen a quick text during the day to let them know you’re thinking of them or wish them luck on a test. But to address the possible problems texting can cause, consider these:

Be a good role model.

  • Do not interrupt a conversation with your teen to accept a phone call.
  • Do not text or talk on the phone while driving.
  • Do not spend large amounts of time on FaceBook or other social networking sites.
  • Look your child in the eyes when speaking with them.
  • Engage in conversation with them regularly.

Establish appropriate phone limits.

  • Set a rule that your child’s phone must be turned off and left on the kitchen table (or some other public area) between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am.  Consequences for breaking the rule is the loss of the phone.
  • Establish a rule that there is no phone use during meal times, homework time, or while conversing within the family.
  • Let them know your expectations for how long it should take them to respond to your text when they are outside of your home.
  • Discourage phone use at school.

Increase the youth’s awareness of potential dangers.

  • Inform them of the data that shows the dangers of texting and driving.
  • Inform them of the consequences –legal consequences and those you establish as the parent – of inappropriate texting that relate to sexting or bullying.
  • Insist that their writing – in school and at home – should not use “texting style” abbreviations.

Texting does not have to be a “bad thing”.  It can be a useful communication tool for parents to be in touch with their teens while they are out or when they need a ride home. It can offer new ways to stay in touch with friends. Texting is a new technology for all of us and when used appropriately, it can be a wonderful means of communication.  However, we must be using various forms of communication to be well-rounded and socially competent.

One comment

  • I think we live in a culture where business people need to ‘hit the ball over the net’. Teens consider it rude not to reply immediately to texts. Home schedules would grind to a halt without immediate communication. We are conditioned to pursue this level of efficiency but we are all supposed cease this behavior once we sit in our respective 5,000 pound pieces of steel and glass. Anyone can win an argument in a forum like this by saying “Just put the phone away” – but we can see its just not happening.

    I just read that 72% of teens text daily – many text more 4000 times a month. New college students no longer have email addresses! They use texting and Facebook – even with their professors. This text and drive issue is in its infancy and I think we need to do more than legislate.

    I decided to do something about it after my three year old daughter was nearly run down right in front of me by a texting driver. Instead of a shackle that locks down phones and alienates the user (especially teens) I built a tool called OTTER that is a simple GPS based texting auto reply app for smartphones. I think if we can empower the individual then change will come to our highways now and not just our laws.

    Erik Wood, owner
    OTTER app

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