Sex, Drugs More Common In Hyper-Texting Teens

Wednesday, November 10th 2010, 11:39 am
By: News 9

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Teens who text 120 times a day or more -- and there seems to be a lot of them -- are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol and drugs than kids who don't send as many messages, according to provocative new research.

The study's authors aren't suggesting that "hyper-texting" leads to sex, drinking or drugs, but say it's startling to see an apparent link between excessive messaging and that kind of risky behavior.

The study by Case Western Reserve School of Medicine concludes that a significant number of teens are very susceptible to peer pressure and also have permissive or absent parents, said Dr. Scott Frank, the study's lead author.

"If parents are monitoring their kids' texting and social networking, they're probably monitoring other activities as well," said Frank, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Doctor Stewart Beasley, a well known psychologist from Edmond, said the study may be on to something.

"What you find is kids who tend to reach out more through social networking like Facebook or texting tend to be more chance taking," Beasley said.

The study received mixed reviews from local teenagers.  Kursten Long, a senior at Edmond Memorial High School, said the study makes sense.

"Those who have cell phones would be more likely to engage in risky behavior because they have more connections to stuff and they have friends who have more connections to that," Long said.

"I don't think it has anything to do with that. It's kind of where you grow up and how your parents bring you up," teenager Nikolai Schmitz said.

The study was done at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area last year, and is based on confidential paper surveys of more than 4,200 students.

The study found that about one in five students were hyper-texters and about one in nine are hyper-networkers -- those who spend three or more hours a day on Facebook and other social networking websites.

About one in 25 fall into both categories.

Hyper-texting and hyper-networking were more common among girls, minorities, kids whose parents have less education and students from a single-mother household, the study found.

Frank's study is billed as one of the first studies to look at texting and social networking and whether they are linked to actual sexual intercourse or to other risky behaviors.

"This study demonstrates that it's a legitimate question to explore," said Douglas Gentile, who runs the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University.

Among the study's findings, teens who are heavy texters which are defined as sending 120 text messages per school day are:

  • Twice as likely to have tried alcohol
  • 43 percent more likely to binge drink
  • 40 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes
  • 41 percent more likely to try illegal drugs
  • Three and half times more likely to have sex
  • 90 percent more likely to have sex with four or more partners
  • 55 percent more likely to get into a physical fight

Compared to the heavy texters, the hyper-networkers were not as likely to have had sex, but more likely to have been involved in other risky behaviors like drinking or fighting.

According to the study hyper-networkers are:

  • 79 percent more likely to have tried alcohol
  • 69 percent more likely to binge drink
  • 62 percent more likely to smoke cigarettes
  • 84 percent more likely to try illegal drugs
  • 69 percent more likely to have sex
  • 60 percent more likely to have sex with four or more partners
  • 94 percent more likely to get into a physical fight

"The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked, texting and other wildly popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers," said Frank. "This should be a wakeup call to parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting and driving, but by discouraging excessive use of the cell phone or social websites in general."

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.

The latest survey did not ask what students texted or what they discussed on social networks.