Too Many Texts?

Excessive use of texting, social media linked to risky behavior in teens.

Parents of text-crazed teenagers might have more to be concerned about than sky-high cell phone bills, according to a Case Western Reserve University study that links excessive use of popular high-tech communications to risky health behaviors.

According to the study, 19.8 percent of teens surveyed reported hyper-texting—sending more than 120 messages per school day—and the data showed these students 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 and 41 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs compared to their non-hyper-texting peers. In addition, these students are 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.

Scott Frank, MD, MS, lead researcher on the study and director of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine Master of Public Health program, presented the findings Nov. 9 at the American Public Health Association's 138th annual Meeting and Exposition in Denver.

"The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected are associated with unhealthy behaviors among teenagers," says Frank. "This may be a wake-up call for parents to open a dialogue with their kids about the extent of texting and social networking they are involved with and about what is happening in the rest of their lives."

Additionally, 11.5 percent of students surveyed reported hyper-networking, defined as spending more than three hours per school day on social networking websites, which is associated with higher levels of stress, depression, suicide, substance use, fighting, poor sleep, poor academics, television watching and parental permissiveness. Teens who are hyper-networkers are 62 percent more likely to have tried cigarettes, 79 percent more likely to have tried alcohol, 69 percent more likely to be binge drinkers, 84 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs, 94 percent more likely to have been in a physical fight, 69 percent more likely to have had sex and 60 percent more likely to report four or more sexual partners.

Researchers surveyed a cross section of high school students from an urban Midwestern county and assessed the association between communication technology and health behaviors.

Frank emphasizes that this study does not conclude that avid texting and social networking causes unhealthy behavior, only that the behaviors are associated. He says further research is needed to determine the exact nature of this relationship.