This week, researchers at Case Western Reserve University announced that they'd found a strong correlation between texting, time spent on social networking sites, and risky teenage behavior like drinking, smoking, drug use, and having sex. The findings showed that "hyper-texters"--teenagers who sent more than 120 text messages a day--were more likely to abuse drugs, get into physical fights, or be sexually active than their peers. The researchers also found a correlation between spending three hours a day on social networks and behavior like missing school, binge drinking, and thinking about suicide. The findings have been greeted with consternation in some quarters and skepticism in others.
One Possible Explanation The New York Times quotes Scott Frank, director of the public-health master's program at the Case Western medical school, who says that "it does make sense that these technologies make it easier for kids to fall into a trap of working too hard to fit in. If they're working that hard to fit in through their social networks, they're also trying to fit in through other behaviors they perceive as popular, like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, having sex and getting involved in higher-risk adolescent behaviors."
Certain Groups Particularly at Risk Time's Meredith Melnick notes that "heavy texting and social networking were more common among girls, minorities and kids from homes with a single mother or less parental education." Melnick also points out that "researchers are quick to stress that they do not show that texting causes risky behavior... Rather it may have more to do with peer pressure and lack of parental oversight."
This Really Proves Nothing, observes Elizabeth Armstrong Moore at CNET. "The numbers only demonstrate correlation. Based on these findings, spending too much time on Facebook and sending text messages could simply be symptomatic of other issues, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, attention deficit disorders, etc., rather than causes of them."
Texting's Not Evil; Also, These Kids Sound Sort of Awesome "Texting and/or Facebooking can hardly be relegated to 'dangerous teen behavior' wholesale, since they are oft also used for nice, goody-goody things like arranging debate club meetings and bake sales and study groups," writes Jen Doll at The Village Voice. "As for the teens in question, maybe it's that our hyper-texters/networkers are lonely, given their permissive, absentee parents, and are thereby forced to turn to technology--and, sometimes, certain unhealthy pursuits--to fill the void. OR, perhaps it's that they're just ahead of their time. Being able to text, sex, drink, and social network simultaneously, all while duking it out with a particularly nasty, say, commenter--buoyed by the energy and irrepressible spirit of youth? We're kind of jealous."