13 October 2010

Let your fingers do the talking

Too much texting can have negative effects on teen health.


Teens love texting; just take a look at your teens and their friends, hands glued to their cell phone like it’s a third arm, eyes fixated on the tiny screen, and everything else stands still at the tone of a new message received.

According to a recent study done by the Pew research Centre's Internet and American Life Project, it was found that on average an adolescent sends or receives 50 or more messages a day, or 1500 texts a month. Girls between the ages of 12-17 text more than boys, sending out about 80 messages a day compared to boys who send out approximately 30 a day.

It is clear that texting is the main form of communication for teens. But why do they prefer texting?

"Teens love to talk and traditionally that's what they did a lot. Now texting has replaced conversation and become a crutch. Texting is often less threatening than having a real conversation. It's easier and quicker. Many teens say they haven’t really thought about why they text rather than talk - they just do it," says counsellor Janine Shamos.

While teens seem to be having more 'text conversations', their interpersonal communication skills are being affected.

"Texting is replacing conversation with the result that, even though teens may have hundreds of mxit and sms friends they feel alone and isolated, and they don’t form real relationships or connections with other people. The less teens talk the less they are able to, and the more likely they are to live in an online world," says Shamos.

It is also very easy to misunderstand texts. We can't read tone or attitude, and messages often go awry. For teens this, combined with teen angst and moodiness, can be more traumatic than needs be.

How healthy is texting?

A recent study published in the SA Medical Journal found that texting was taking its toll on SA teens thumbs. Teens reported blisters on their thumbs, pain or tingling in their necks, hands or backs.

Swedish researchers also found that in serious cases excessive wear and tear can cause inflammation of the basal joint (at the base of the thumb) which can lead to arthritis. Thumb arthritis can cause hand pain, swelling, decreased strength and range of motion.

Repetitive typing can also irritate the tissues in the hand and create pain, however, these stress injuries can take years to develop.

According to an Australian researcher these are other downsides of texting:

  • Textraphrenia – the mistaken belief that you have heard the beep or felt the vibration of an incoming text
  • Post-traumatic text disorder – when texters walk into things or are otherwise oblivious to what is around them
  • Textiety – the crisis of confidence when time goes by without a text being received
  • Binge texting – sending a blizzard of text to boost confidence

Sexting and textual harassment

Sexting, when teens share naked pictures of themselves, has become a common practice amongst teens. According to the Pew Study almost 20% of teens admitted to sending explicit pictures of themselves.

Sexting can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are doing it without someone you don't really know and when it's done in a texting forum such as Mxit. Predators can parade as teens, people can assume identities and pretend to be something they are not. Many teens do this innocently and like the feeling of being someone else for a while, however this could leave them open to being influenced to do things they wouldn’t normally do.

"Sexting often leads to sex and raises all sorts of feelings that teens may not be comfortable with. It is often seen as a safer option, which it may be, but it must be remembered that it is still an intimate act and shouldn't be taken lightly just because it is over the phone. Teens feel it is safer - they may not be ready for sex but have desires and curiosity. It is a fun, safe way to be intimate, but can be unfulfilling or leave teens feeling dirty or rejected if their sexting buddy has multiple partners," says Shamos.

Textual harassment is also a growing concern, according to a MTV poll involving online interviews with 1 247 teenagers, half of them reported being targets of digital bullying. Someone either wrote something about them that was a lie, shared an private email, text message, picture or video with others.

It is also a tool for dating violence where one partner is constantly plagued by messages such as : Where r u? Who r u with? Why didn't you answer me? Those harassed often feel compelled to answer.

This ad highlights it:


What can parents do?

"Parents need to monitor the amount of texts teens are sending and compare it to their conversation time. Get itemised billing that shows text messages, limit phone use and don't think that if your teen is supposed to be asleep that they are. Very often teens text all through the night, so take the phone away at bedtime," says Shamos.

(Leandra Engelbrecht, Health24, October 2010)


- Janine Shamos, Counsellor

- What happens after you press send,

-  Incessant teen texting causes health concern,

-  2004. Donna Reid & Fraser Reid. Insights into the Social and Pyschological Effects of SMS Text Messaging.

-  Beware of SMS stalker


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