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Texting Addictions

According to the Nielson Company, more than 2,000 text messages are sent by the average teenager per month. This tendency to excessively text is leading to sleep deprivation, anxiety, stunted maturation, and other problems for many teens. To learn more about the warning signs and negative effects of excessively texting, as well as what to do if you have a texting problem, read on… 

What are the signs of a texting addiction?

The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that excessive gaming, or virtual sex, email and texting may be a form of addiction. They describe four main symptoms that can indicate that there is a problem when it comes to texting:

1.      Excessive use of texting to the extent that you lose track of time or neglect things like eating and sleeping.

2.      Feelings of withdrawal if you do not have access to your phone/texts that can lead to anger and depression.

3.      Tolerance. A constant need for more time on the phone and/or looking for ways to upgrade your phone’s texting capabilities.

4.      Experiencing negative repercussions of the addiction, such as problems in family and/or peer relationships, fatigue, underachieving, and/or increased arguments with others. 

Some warning signs of excessive texting can also include:

·         Skipping meals, homework, or various afterschool activities in order to text.

·         Weight loss or gain.

·         A drop in grades or academic problems. 

 

How can excessive texting negatively affect me?

Texting while driving. Current research is very clear that drivers who are distracted, such as people who are texting while driving, significantly increase their chances of getting into an accident – potentially harming themselves, other drivers on the road, and even pedestrians. Research also suggests that texting while driving is particularly problematic for teens. For one thing, teens are newer to driving – their relative inexperience with driving makes them particularly vulnerable when distractions like texting are put into the mix. Secondly, research indicates that the more teens that are in a car, the more likely the driver is to be texting. 

Keep these following facts in mind when it comes to texting and driving: 

·         A Nationwide Insurance Study found that 20% of drivers in general are texting while behind the wheel – while 66% of people between 18 and 24 are doing it. 

·         A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving a truck increased the risk of accident by a stunning 2320%. While they didn’t specifically study car drivers, it’s easy to assume the risk is great as well. 

·         When texting while driving, one's eyes are off the road for enough time to travel along a road the length of a football field while going 55 miles per hour. That is a long time to not be paying attention to what is happening in front of you. 

·         Drivers younger than 20 had the highest distracted-driving fatality rate among all age groups last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

·         Marcel Just, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, completed a study last year showing that simply listening to a cell phone while driving can cause drivers to commit errors as if they were under the influence of alcohol. "Listening was bad enough," Just said. "One does not need to do research (to see) that texting while driving is a very risky thing to do."

Texting through the night. Many teens don’t stop texting once the day is done. Teens often leave their phones on through the night – keeping them near their beds or even under their pillows in case they receive a text so that they can answer right away. The problem with this is that even moderate amount of nighttime texting can greatly increase the risk of long-term fatigue. Teens who text at night are often not getting a sufficient amount of sleep in terms of hours, and are also experiencing disrupted sleep when woken up to read and respond to texts – both of which can contribute to fatigue. 

Sexting. For our readers who do not know, sexting refers to sending a text message with sexually explicit content or a sexually explicit picture. There are a couple of potential problems with sexting. For one thing, these types of texts are considered to be a crime in some area because of the legalities involved in being in possession of sexually explicit pictures of minors. Consequences of sexting can involve the police and/or suspension from school depending on the situation. There have been cases where teens have been prosecuted under current law and have sanctions against them as they are considered sex offenders. So it is critical to understand the serious and life-long consequences of sexting. Second, depending on who is involved in the message or picture – who is receiving it and who is sending it – significant emotional pain and distress can be connected with sexting. Third, if a private message or picture of you falls into the wrong hands or is sent to the wrong person, significant embarrassment, distress, and shame can follow. Finally, the more teens sext, the more that adolescents may have the idea that many more teens are having sex than really are. Teens may think they are in the minority if they are not sexually involved, and may end up feeling pressured to participate in sexual situations they are really not ready for. 

Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying refers to sending harassing texts, emails, and/or instant messages, as well as posting intimidating or threatening statements or materials on various websites or blogs. Teens participating in cyberbullying can find themselves dealing with serious consequences with the police, as well as with their schools. Teens who are being cyberbullied often find themselves dealing with significant sadness, anger, shame, distress, and loneliness – emotions that can become so strong they have even resulted in suicide for some teens. 

Constant connection with parents. While there are certainly some pros in having technology available that makes it easy for teens and parents to communicate with one another, there can be some down sides as well. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist at MIT, suggests that this constant line of communication can interfere in the normal process of teen separation and individuation from their caregivers – relying too much on parents for everyday decisions they should be learning to make on their own.

Staying in the loop. Some psychologists believe that excessive texting can contribute to increased anxiety for teens, who can become very preoccupied and worried about being out of the loop. Teens who don’t receive what they consider to be a sufficient amount of texts, or sit around waiting for texts to come through, can find their self-esteem affected as texting is a new measure of social standing in the adolescent community. 

Repetitive stress injuries. Teens who excessively text can also end up dealing with painful cramping in the thumbs, which can be signs of musculoskeletal disorders and temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs. Some doctors have even seen teens with back pain due to the poor posture used during texting. 

Face-to-face contact. Wit texting replacing face-to-face conversations and even phone contact, are teens missing out on valuable real-world opportunities in terms of interacting with others? Does texting make it easier for teens who have a tendency to isolate and to want to escape reality to do just that? 

Self-reflection. Some health professionals are beginning to wonder how much texting is taking away from a teen’s time to be quiet and with themselves in a way that helps them further develop who they want to be as people and where they want to go in life. With texting as a constant interruption and distraction, do teens get the alone time they need to be peaceful and reflect?

 

 

What do I do if I think I have a problem with texting?

Talk to your parents. 

Let your parents know that you think you have a problem with excessive texting. Develop a plan with them to set some appropriate limits on the texting. This might include:

·         Come up with a number of texts per day you should stick to, or simply make texting something for emergency use only.

·         If you think you can’t control yourself with the phone at night, turn off the phone for the night and have your parents take the phone before you go to bed and return it to you in the morning. 

·         Limit texting during certain times of the day: not at school, the dinner table, or at night, for example. 

·         If you do not want to tell your friends that you feel you might have a problem with texting, tell your friends your parents have decided to make changes to your phone plan and the texting rules for you based on the research coming out. It might feel easier to put it on them than to tell your friends you think you have a problem with it. 

·         If you have unlimited texting on your phone, have your parents change your phone plan to limit your texts, and set up an arrangement that if you go over you have to take responsibility for that and pay for it yourself. 

·         If you have a tendency to sent inappropriate material on your cell, ask your parents to check your phone’s content every now and then. It may help you to monitor what you are sending if you know they are going to be looking at your phone. 

·         Having them check the phone bill each month to ensure you are not excessively texting. 

Remind yourself of the following in terms of what you send:

·         Anything you send through a text can basically be shared with the entire world if it falls into the wrong hands – so remember to use good judgment in what you send. 

·         Avoid gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, damaging someone’s reputation, or anything similar through the use of texts. 

Seek out help from a mental health professional:

If speaking with your parents and setting certain limits for yourself does not improve things, consider seeking out professional help. There is no “cure” for any type of addiction, but therapy can certainly be helpful in addressing addictive behaviors. In addition, if a person is prone to a texting addiction due to a mental illness, such as depression, it is important for a trained mental health professional to provider treatment for the underlying illness. 

If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. Outside of this area you can log onto the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website for referrals in your area. You can also contact your insurance company to get a list of in-network mental health providers or check with your school social worker or psychologist to get a list of referrals in your area. 

Seek out help from a medical professional:

If you have any recurring pain in your fingers, hands, or back, please speak to your medical health professional as soon as possible. If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-6475 for an appointment or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.