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Teens are texting more, study finds, but is it addictive?

Published March 28, 2012 7:53 am

Technology • New study shows the average number of daily texts has gone up for youth.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

OMG! Did u c how mny txt msgs Lorilie Spegar sent??

Her mom, Tiffany Spegar, did. And she about had a heart attack.

"She sent out about 6,500 texts last month," the West Jordan woman said of her 14-year-old daughter. "I can't even wrap my mind around that!"



That definitely puts the West Hills Middle School ninth grader above the fray when it comes to texting from her cell phone. Her roughly 216 incoming and outgoing text messages per day is more than 3½ times the median number of texts sent and received per day by teens, according to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Teens are spending more time texting and less time talking. The median number of texts sent each day by teens 12 to 17 years old rose from 50 in 2009 to 60 in 2011, according to the study, which interviewed 799 teens and their parents. Meanwhile, 26 percent of teens talk daily with friends on their cell phone, down from 38 percent in 2009.

Lorilie Spegar noticed that her texting has skyrocketed since she first got a cell phone two years ago.

"I was actually pretty shocked. I didn't think it was much. You don't feel like you're sending out that many texts, it just feels like you're just talking to somebody," she said.

She added that her texting has increased because, "I actually have unlimited texting but I don't have unlimited calls, and I'm scared of going over. It's just easier."

For teens, texting has overwhelmingly become the dominant form of communication. According to Pew, 75 percent of all teens text, and 63 percent text at least daily. That's compared with 39 percent who speak on a cell phone, 35 percent who talk face-to-face after school, 29 percent who use social networks like Facebook, 19 percent who talk on landline phones and 6 percent who use email.

Older girls remain the most active texters, the study states, with a median of 100 texts a day, compared with 50 for boys the same age.

The problem when kids text that much as opposed to engaging face-to-face is it leads to superficial conversations, said Colorado educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, author of Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating Your Child's Learning Problems, which explores learning in the technology age.

"For the most part, it appears to be pretty much on a surface level. It's quick. It's in response to an immediate idea. When are these children learning to have deep thoughts and deep conversations? How are we producing a generation who just skim the surface intellectually?" she asked.

"You can't be texting and thinking deeply at the same time, it's impossible," she added. "Multitasking diminishes the quality of each task and the depth at which you process things with your brain."

Robert Gehl, assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah who specializes in new media, believes somewhat the contrary — that teens like to text more instead of talk because they can compose their thoughts in writing more clearly as opposed to blurting something out without consideration.

"They're really thinking it through in very sophisticated ways. It's really complicated social interaction going on," he said. "There is research that teens and college students compose messages that have multiple meanings."

As for why some teens jump from 50 texts a day to 500, there is the growing idea among some psychologists and psychiatrists that texting — like other Internet activities including online gaming — can be clinically addictive. Healy certainly thinks so. She believes that texting, like gambling, offers rewards that those who are addicted crave.

"The reward they get is a ding or a flag alerting them a message has arrived, and we all respond to this at some level," Healy said. "Our brains are programmed to view that as a reward — you're popular, you have a lively life, and you're busy. That signal causes the secretion of brain chemicals ... that have to do with wanting to do it again. It makes you feel good."

Lorilie's mother, Tiffany Spegar, sometimes wonders if it's an addiction that drives her daughter's desire to text. As a result, Lorilie's parents have had to enforce some rules: no texting after 8:15 p.m. and not during dinner.

"I don't know if it's an extreme addiction," Tiffany Spegar said, "but even when I take her phone away, I can see she's dying to get it back."

vince@sltrib.com

Twitter: @ohmytech

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi —

Tips for parents of over-texters

Educational psychologist Jane M. Healy, who has written books about raising children in this high-tech age, suggests a few tips for parents with teens who text too much.

Make sure parents put down their electronic devices, too. Their teens can model their own behavior.

Parents can engage with their kids in activities and in discussions that might spark deeper thinking. Insist that families, for example, sit down to dinner together without any electronics.

Parents should have conversations with their kids about the effects of electronics on teens' brains. Show them how to be critical and analytical thinkers.

 

 

 

 

 

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