Hypernetworking and hypertexting bad for kids in more ways than one: Study

According to a new study adolescents who text excessively or who are hooked on social networking sites are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviours like smoking and binge drinking than their peers who are not similar users. Scientists at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine surveyed 4,257 high school students from an urban county in the Midwest to look at the health effects of communications technology usage.

They found that teenagers who ‘texted’ more than 120 messages per day were 40% more likely to have tried cigarettes, 43% more likely to be binge drinkers, 41% more likely to have used illicit drugs, 55% more likely to have been in a physical fight, 3.5 times more likely to have had sex, and 90% more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners. These teenagers were termed as “hyper texters” and 19.8% of the surveyed teenagers came under this category.

Teenagers who spent three or more hours on social networking sites were termed as those who were “hypernetworking”. Of teens surveyed, 11.5% said they spend more than three hours a day on social networking sites. These kids are 62% more likely to have tried cigarettes, 79% more likely to have tried alcohol, 69% more likely to be binge drinkers, 84% more likely to have used illicit drugs, 94% more likely to have been in a physical fight, 69% more likely to have had sex, and 60% more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners.

Both these habits are also linked with obesity, eating disorders, school absenteeism due to illness, lack of adequate sleep, and feelings of being unsafe at school. These teens also are more likely to be stressed and to think about suicide.

Scott Frank of Case Western Reserve, who led the study said, “The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked, texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers… This should be a wake-up call for parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting and driving, but by discouraging excessive use of the cell phone or social web sites in general.” He presented the study findings at the 138th annual meeting and exposition of the American Public Health Association in Denver.

Dr Catriona Morrison, Senior Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at Leeds University, UK speaking on the study said, “There seems to be a small but important subgroup of people for whom internet use is unhealthy, pathological and it doesn’t enhance their life…It appears very similar to gambling but it’s a competitive behaviour that has features very similar to other addictions.”

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