Teen Girls at Risk for Texting Addiction—and its Consequences

Whenever I speak to groups of parents, no matter the ages of their children, the issue of texting always comes up in the Q & A afterward. This makes sense. With teens today using texting as their main way of communicating, mothers and fathers struggle with whether they should be limiting texting—and, if so, how they can possibly do that!

Brand-new research from psychologist Kelly M. Lister-Landman and her colleagues suggests parents of teen girls would be wise to figure out some strategies and solutions. That’s because they’re far more at risk than boys (12% versus 3%) for developing addictions to texting.

This study of 400 eighth and eleventh graders found that compulsive teens send about 100 texts every day. These girls are compelled to look at their phones all the time and in fact become anxious when they can’t do so. What will upset many parents is that these girls behave like gambling addicts—for example, they report losing sleep because of texting, having trouble trying to cut down, and lying to cover up how much time they’re really spending texting. An addiction to texting is also associated with poorer academic performance.

The researchers believe that girls may be doing worse in school because they’re too caught up in texting, which is not only time-consuming but also anxiety-provoking. That’s because girls typically use texts to deal with relationship problems, which often includes expressing negative feelings. This is certainly consistent with what I see in my practice and learn from my own research.

Although it’s difficult for parents to set boundaries around technology, this is necessary to prevent teen girls from developing texting habits that are that much harder to break once they become full-blown addictions. Best to establish parameters now, especially if you have preteens. Household rules that can help are: asking kids to put their phones in a specific, central location (e.g., kitchen) while they’re doing homework, getting ready for bed (to avoid stimulating the brain), and sleeping; making dinner a screen-free time (which promotes family connections, too); and designating certain phone-free hours for the entire family (to model healthy behavior).

I also believe it’s important to talk to teens about research such as this and why it concerns you. Although girls may not believe it could ever happen to them, this information can place your guidelines in a meaningful context.

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