SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Loss of sleep, lying, covering up, denial — those may sound like the character flaws of a compulsive gambler, but in fact, they may describe a certain teen you know, who texts all the time.
A study of more than 400 eighth and eleventh grade teenagers who text, found the adolescents share some of the very same traits attributed to compulsive gamblers. They court their phones the same way a gambler craves the slot machines at the casino.
The research was published in the October online issue of Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
The participants in the study were mostly from white, Midwestern, 2-parent families, and the findings were based on data that was self-reported.
There are lots of signs a teen may be a compulsive texter according to the study. Difficulty cutting back, anxiety when the phone is not around, the need to constantly check the device are some of the signs to look for.
Using data compiled from questionnaires, the researchers formulated a Compulsive Texting Scale based on 3 basic categories: “interference with tasks,” like chores; “cognitive preoccupation,” or the frustration of having to wait; and “concealment,” trying to hide how much you text.
“It appears that it is the compulsive nature of texting, rather than sheer frequency, that is problematic,” said lead researcher Kelly M. Lister-Landman, PhD, of Delaware County Community College. “Compulsive texting is more complex than frequency of texting. It involves trying and failing to cut back on texting, becoming defensive when challenged about the behavior, and feeling frustrated when one can’t do it.”
Furthermore, the girls in the sampling texted significantly more than the boys and were more likely to suffer a negative impact on their academic performance. Researchers said it may be because the content of girls’ texts is more distracting and interfering.
“Females may be more likely to use texting as a means to establish and nurture relationships.”
Also, girls are more likely than boys to engage in “obsessive, preoccupied thinking,” and at this stage of development focus more on their “intimacy and interpersonal relationships” than males do.
Now, before confiscating girls’ phones, it bears noting the study identified the benefits of normal texting for teens. It may enhance academic performance when used in a goal-oriented way and even facilitate understanding of material and assignments.
The researchers recommend future studies that examine different ethnic and age groups, using data based on monthly bills and interviews with parents instead.
Meantime, Lister-Landman advises parents to be on the lookout for signs of compulsive texting, and if necessary, “establish ‘screen free’ time periods or zones in the home,” at the dinner table, or while doing homework.
“Teens regularly multi-task, and establishing boundaries to cut down on the teens’ divided attention could prove beneficial,” she said.
CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.