Teens who send more than 120 texts a day are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol or illegal drugs than peers who text less, according to a study conducted at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. These “hyper-texters” were also more likely to get into physical fights, binge drink and misuse prescription drugs.
Despite the suggestive findings, researchers are quick to stress that they do not show that texting causes risky behavior, the Associated Press reports. Rather it may have more to do with peer pressure and lack of parental oversight. (More on Time.com: 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)
“If parents are monitoring their kids’ texting and social networking, they’re probably monitoring other activities as well,” lead author Dr. Scott Frank, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western, told the AP. Frank is scheduled to present his findings Nov. 9 at the American Public Health Association in Denver.
In the survey of 4,200 Cleveland-area high school students, 20% were designated as hyper-texters; about 11% were considered hyper-networkers, who reported spending three or more hours per day on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. About 4% of students both hyper-texted and hyper-networked. (More on Time.com: Study: What the Risky Sex Lives of NYC Teens Reveal).
The hyper-texters were 3.5 more likely to have had sex than teens who texted less. The hyper-networkers, however, were not more likely to have had sex compared with the hyper-texters, but they did exceed the texters’ predilection for fighting, drinking and drug use.
Hyper-texting and hyper-networking kids may share characteristics, such as being particularly social, impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure — which could underlie their riskier behaviors — but more studies are needed to better understand the link. Researchers found that heavy texting and social networking were more common among girls, minorities and kids from homes with a single mother or less parental education. (More on Time.com: ‘Blackout in a Can': Alcoholic Energy Drinks Keep Wreaking Havoc).
The repercussions may yet be unknown, but researchers do know that kids are spending more time on smartphones and in front of screens than ever before. The AP reports:
A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that about half of children ages 8 to 18 send text messages on a cell phone in a typical day. The texters estimated they average 118 texts per day. That study also found that only 14 percent of kids said their parents set rules limiting texting.
Other studies have tied teen texting to risky or lewd behavior. A Pew Research Center study found that about one-third of 16- and 17-year-olds send texts while driving. And an Associated Press-MTV poll found that about one-quarter of teenagers have “sexted” — shared sexually explicit photos, videos and chat by cell phone or online.
Frank’s study, which did not ask the content of students’ texts or online social networking conversations, is the first to explore the link between texting or networking and risky sexual behavior.