November 10, 2010

Hyper-texting and Hyper-Networking Pose New Health Risks for Teens

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Frequent texting among teenagers has been linked to high-risk
behavior, a new Case Western Reserve study finds.

Texting while driving can be a deadly combination for anyone. Yet new data released this week reveal that the dangers of excessive texting among teens may not be limited to the road. Hyper-texting and hyper-networking may be giving rise to a new health risk category for this age group.

Scott Frank, MD, MS, lead researcher on the study and director of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine Master of Public Health program, presented the findings Tuesday at the American Public Health Association’s 138th annual Meeting & Exposition in Denver. Researchers surveyed a cross section of high school students from an urban Midwestern County and assessed whether use of communication technology could be associated with unhealthy behaviors, including smoking, drinking and sexual activity.

According to the research, hyper-texting, defined as texting more than 120 messages per school day, was reported by 19.8 percent of teens surveyed. Teens who are hyper-texters 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, 41 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs, 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.

“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,” said Frank. “This may be a wake-up call for parents to open 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, hyper-networking, defined as spending more than three hours per school day on social networking websites, was reported by 11.5 percent of students and 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.

Frank emphasizes that this study does not conclude that these unhealthy behaviors are caused by hyper-texting and hyper-networking, only that the behaviors are associated. Further research is indicated to discern the exact nature of this relationship, he says.

Posted by: David Wilson, November 10, 2010 09:28 AM | News Topics: School of Medicine

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