Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is Texting Trouble for Teens?

A recent study said that teens who “hyper-text” may be more at risk for problems with sex, alcohol, and drugs. By “hyper-text” they mean teens that text more than 120 times a day. Knowing some of the teens that I do – that number does not seem out of reach.

I am sure this news worries some parents, particularly those whose teens have the cell phone in hand during almost every humanly possible activity. I’ve seen teens texting while talking to another person. They text in class. They text on the bus. They text while doing homework. Some text while driving. Communicating through texting has become as natural to them as conversing – and far more convenient.

The study was performed at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area. More than four thousand teens participated in a confidential survey.

Why is it a cause for concern?

1) Parents do not know how much their teens are texting.

Recently a friend of ours said she received a print out of her 16-year-old daughter’s cell phone use. The detailed bill, for just one week, listed a dozen pages of calls. Her parents were shocked. They had no idea that their child was on the phone that often. How could she have gotten anything else done? What was she saying during all of these texts?

2) Parents who are unaware of texting habits – may be unaware of other activities as well.

There is a concern by experts that hyper-texting is just another symptom of a parent who is uninvolved. I have great sympathy for parents. Staying involved with our teens is no easy task.

Teens, by their nature, are reclusive. They are often at home glued to their computers, alone in their rooms, listening to music or playing video games. Some parents intervene into the teen’s private world – many choose not to. To avoid intervention is to avoid conflict. Parents want to pick their battles – so they sometimes resort to limited involvement.

3) Teens who hyper text are more than three times as likely to have sex.

This study concluded that many teens who hyper-text are susceptible to peer pressure. Texting engages them moment by moment with their peers – and permissive or absent parents may be unaware of the potential influence this presents. Dr. Scott Frank, the study’s author, said, “"If parents are monitoring their kids' texting and social networking, they're probably monitoring other activities as well.”

4) Hyper-texters are more often girls.

5) Only 14 percent of kids said their parents set limits for texting.

Many are disagreeing with this study, but I think it is a cause for concern. As a professor of media, I am aware that no form of media is neutral. It has advantages, but it also produces disadvantages. Texting might be an exclusive and private world that the teen can saturate himself or herself in without interference from parental influence.

Parents of teens who text should take note. There is nothing wrong with setting limits. There are many who have hours for acceptable texting use. Phones can be physically removed from their possession during homework, family or sleeping times.

Kids may not like it when a parent gets involved, but this study does affirm that intervening parents can help produce well-balanced adults.
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