November 19, 2015 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how compulsive texting habits can impact teen’s academic performance and personal life.

Do you find yourself constantly asking your teenager to put his or her smartphone away at the dinner table or struggling to get your teen to disconnect before bed? Texting has become ingrained into the day-to-day life of the average teen and it probably comes as no surprise that teens utilize their digital devices more than any other generation. Today, the average teenager sends 60 text messages a day, up 20% from 2009. While there are many benefits of hyper-connectivity, what are the negative consequences associated with teens’ texting behaviors?

According to a new study published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology of Popular Media Culture journal, teens communicate through text message more than any other form of communication – sometimes at a level that could be considered compulsive. “Compulsive” texting was defined by three measures: interference with tasks, cognitive preoccupation and concealment. The researchers surveyed more than 400 eighth and 11th graders to determine their texting habits and how texting contributed to problems in school, including academics, school engagement and overall wellbeing.

The study found that the habits of teens who reported compulsive texting mirrored those who compulsively gambled. Adolescents who compulsively text said that they experienced sleep loss, had problems reducing their texting frequency and felt the need to lie about the amount of time they spent texting. Additionally, the researchers found a correlation between problems in school and compulsive texting, though it was unclear if compulsive texting was the sole cause for these issues.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered a stark contrast between teen boys’ and girls’ compulsive texting habits. Overall, 12% (one in eight) of girls were compulsive texters, while only 3% of boys experienced compulsive texting behaviors. Furthermore, although girls generally perform better than boys in school, the study found a connection between girls’ compulsive texting and declining grades while the grades of boys who excessively texted were not affected. Despite these findings, it is important to note that the study did not examine whether other factors, like drug use and mental health, contributed to poor academic performance. Additionally, it’s important to note that the students self-reported their academic performance.

Regardless of problems in school or at home, parents must do their best to recognize compulsive texting behaviors and other potentially unhealthy practices on digital devices. Parents should take a proactive approach by setting limits on digital devices to mitigate compulsive texting or taking specific measures like making sure teens turn off their phones an hour before bed. However, if issues do arise parents should be conscious of other underlying causes for concern that may be at play. Clear parent-teen communication is essential in preventing unhealthy habits and supporting our sons and daughters to be the best they can possibly be.

You can read the full report here. What advice would you give to other parents on monitoring teens’ texting habits? Please share with us in the comments below!