Experts: Texting could be the next health threat to teens

Study links hyper-texters to smoking, drinking, drugs, fights, sex

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Don't underestimate a teenager's love and ability to text. For example, a Wisconsin teen has been named the texting champ for the second time. 

Seventeen-year-old Austin Wierschke has the fastest thumbs in the country.  He won by texting 149 characters in 39 seconds with no spelling or punctuation errors.  But could this temptation to text actually be a health hazard?

While not every teenager is a texting champ, a lot of them are really good at it.  Blair Osgood is one of those teens.  Her mom got her a cell phone so they could keep in touch after school, not knowing her daughter would be texting all day long.

Blair admits she texts about 100 times in her language arts class alone and hundreds of messages a day.   It's something that's concerning to her mom.

"During that texting period- there was definitely a lot of work that was not getting turned in," said Blair's mom, Jane Osgood.

"They have the keyboard memorized. They look like they're paying attention, but their thumbs are feverishly tapping away," said Kevin Roberts, a cyber addiction expert.

Roberts says many experts are divided over whether you can call excessive texting an addiction.

"Its a powerful distraction," he said.

A study from the American Public Health Association reports teens who are hyper-texters, that means teens that text 100 or more messages a day, are:

  • 40% more likely to smoke
  • 43% more likely to be binge drinkers
  • 41% more likely to use drugs
  • 55% more likely to get in physical fights
  • 3.5 times more likely to have sex with 90% of those saying they had 4 or more sexual partners

Experts advice parents to not only monitor the number of texts kids make, but the time those texts are being sent and to place restrictions.

Blair is now text-free during the school day and her grades have rebounded, but she says the temptation to text hasn't completely gone away.

""They'll text me in the middle of class, and I'll be taking notes so I don't answer," she said.

Researchers also say that too much texting time and excessive hours on social networks are linked to obesity, eating disorders, school absenteeism, lack of adequate sleep and feelings of being unsafe at school.  These teens are also more likely to be stressed and think about suicide.

Additional Information:

For teens, texting is now the preferred method of communicating with their friends and the dangers associated with texting have become more and more apparent. Understanding this obsession with cell phone texting and what can be done to control the problem may help protect teens.

TEXTING STATISTICS: The number of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who have their own cell phone has jumped from 45% in 2004 to 75% in 2010. Out of all teenagers, 72% communicate through text message and more than half are daily texters and send 50 or more texts a day. Age and sex also tend to be indicators of how much teens text. Girls between the ages of 14 and 17 are typically the worst offenders, sending more than 3,000 texts per month. However, most teens continue to communicate with their parents primarily through phone calls.

WHAT CAN HELP: Parents can curb their child's texting habits by setting limits and making it clear that they plan to monitor their cell phone activities. Other suggestions that may help is getting teens a limited texts cell phone plan. Those teens with limited plans typically send only 10 texts a day and plans where they have to pay per text cut the number of texts down to 5 a day. It may also help to put teens on a family plan where they do not pay their own bill since only 3% of teens who do not pay their own cell phone bill partake in "sexting".

ABOUT THE EXPERT, AUTHOR KEVIN ROBERTS: Roberts graduated from the University of Michigan. He has a Master's Degree in ADHD studies from Antioch University. As part of the coursework, he did extensive research on addiction. He taught high school and middle school social studies and foreign languages for four years. For the last 13 years, he has been an ADHD Coach and educational consultant, helping underachieving individuals succeed in school and life. In addition, he conducts support groups for teens and adults who struggle with cyber addiction. Roberts is a nationally-recognized expert in cyber addictions and also lectures widely on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He regularly speaks at conferences, hospitals, clinics and medical schools. For more info, go to:

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