Study finds antisocial texting by teens linked to bad behavior

For American teenagers, most text messaging is as harmless as passing notes, but University of Texas at Dallas researchers have discovered that engaging in antisocial texting can actually predict deviant behavior.

On Monday, in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, scientists reported a correlation between the frequency with which adolescents text about antisocial behaviors and the likelihood that they will engage in them.

"We were interested in how adolescents use electronic communication, particularly text messaging," said Dr. Samuel Ehrenreich, post-doctoral researcher in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. "We examined how discussing antisocial – substance abuse, property crimes, physical aggression, that sort of thing – how discussing that predicts actually engaging in this problem behavior. Basically, does talking about bad behavior predict bad behavior?"

Although the idea of studying the texting habits of teens may not be new, looking directly at the messages they are sending is. Past studies relied on self-reported texting behaviors, which Ehrenreich said may be flawed due to teens providing inaccurate information about texts. They would not likely self-report texting about misbehavior. Teens also send an average of 60-100 texts per day, so they may simply forget about much of the texting they do. To circumvent these problems, free BlackBerry devices and service plans were given to 172 ninth-grade students with the understanding that their texts would be monitored.

Texts were collected and stored offsite in a secure database. The participants were rated before and after the school year for rule breaking and aggressive behavior by parents, teachers and in self reports.

Analysis of a sample of texts from two points in time revealed similarities in the types of antisocial messages between boys and girls. These included discussions of rule-breaking, illicit substance use, physical aggression or property crimes. Overall, the rate of antisocial texts was small, at less than 2 percent of the total messages sent and received. However, from this small percentage of messages, a strong link was found between those teenagers exchanging antisocial texts and the ratings of antisocial and aggressive behavior at the end of the school year.

"We know that peers are really influential in an adolescent's development. We also know that peer influence can lead to antisocial behavior at times, and this form of communication provides a new opportunity for peer influence," Ehrenreich said. "Texting is instantaneous, far reaching and it has these unique characteristics that make it all the more powerful, and this provides a new opportunity for peer influence."

Although this study focused on antisocial communications, Ehrenreich cautioned against thinking texting is all bad.

"Texting is meaningful, and within the archive we also saw positive, meaningful communications," Ehrenreich said. "We saw a lot of really heartfelt encouragement that goes on, on the spot, when the students needed it. I think there is a lot that's both good and bad, just like any other form communication. Texting matters."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Texting tops with US teens

Oct 15, 2010

Market tracker Nielsen Co. on Thursday released a study confirming what many US parents already knew: teens love to use mobile phones to swap text messages.

Don't txt n drive: Teens not getting msg

May 04, 2013

Teens can get hundreds of text messages a day, but one message they aren't getting is that they shouldn't text and drive. Nearly 43 percent of high school students of driving age who were surveyed in 2011 reported texting ...

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

1 hour ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.