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Compulsive Texting: The New Teen Danger

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All parents want the best for their children and teens – for them to be happy, do well in school, and grow to become their best selves. All parents also worry about their kids, hoping that they successfully navigate the pitfalls of childhood and adolescence. While some of the old standbys remain of significant concern, such as peer pressure and social adjustments, new studies indicate that a seemingly more benign aspect of teen life deserves scrutiny – texting.

A new study, published Oct. 5 in Psychology of Popular Media Culture surveyed over  400 8th and 11h graders about their text messaging habits. The study found teens reporting behaviors best defined as compulsive, and drew parallels between the way many teens text and the patterns of problem gamblers. Many teens reported lying to cover up the amount of texting they were engaging in, losing sleep to texting, experiencing difficulty cutting back their texting, and other problem behaviors. The study also found a negative correlation between this over-texting and academic performance in girls, but not in boys (though this is not to say that boys are invulnerable, perhaps simply less so).

Texting has quickly become the go-to means of communication for a new generation. 2012 data from Pew Research Center indicates that it has largely replaced talking on the phone and even face to face interaction. Studies similar to the compulsive texting analysis indicate that social media and Internet use have also been linked to addictive behaviors, including lack of sleep and decreased academic performance. It seems safe to say that though technology has provided us with wonderful tools, without proper guidelines it can become a consuming force in life, and children and teens who are still developing are at special risk to adopt these bad behaviors.

For parents looking to curb excessive texting, a recent New York Times article suggests a few practical solutions:

  • Enforce guidelines that phones must be shut off and/or put away during homework time.
  • Establish a phone-free dinner table and phone-free family time (it is important for parents to follow this rule as well if they want their children and teens to).
  • Create a “phone-free” zone (or zones) in your house. This will help encourage less time spent on devices, and also allow parents to better monitor when/how much they are used.
  • Have a screen-free bedtime policy, where phones are left in a living area of the house and not taken to bed with children.

 

Above all else, talk with your children and teens about phone use and texting practices. Share with them some of the concerns and get an honest appraisal of what their text use looks like. Rather than snooping or turning to a phone bill to get an idea of how much they text, let them share with you and develop a sense of trust and an honest back and forth. Lead the way by establishing better phone practices for yourself (see more in the parenting tip linked below). Talk with your teens about the dangers of compulsive behavior, and about structuring priorities in their lives. If your child already texts too frequently, work together to establish better behaviors. We hope you find these tips to be useful.

If your family valued this article and would like to speak further about better ways to interact with technology, we recommend our recent posts “Parenting Tip: Reducing Screen Time for Your Family” and “Email and Texting: Cold, Distant, Impersonal Technology? [By: Male; Parent, New Jersey].”

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