Teenagers whose texting is out of control could be sign of bigger problem

Metro Detroit addiction counselor helps parents overcome teenage problems with hyper-texting

DETROIT - It's no secret that teenagers text each other, and they like to do it a lot, but over doing it could be a sign of another problem.

Jane Osgood got her daughter Blair a cell phone so they could keep in touch after school, but she never imagined Blair would send text messages all day long.

"Probably in the one language arts class, probably 100ish. per class, for that one class," said Blair Osgood.

She would send hundreds of messages a day, about 3,000 text messages a month. The habit had an impact on her academics. Blair was a B and C student but her grades dropped after she received her cell phone.

"During that texting period there was definitely a lot of work that was not getting turned in," said Jane Osgood.

Kevin Roberts, an addiction counselor and author of books including Cyber Junkie, said he is seeing more and more teenagers who have a problem with texting.

"They have the keyboard memorized. They look like they're paying attention but their thumbs are feverishly tapping away," said Roberts.

Roberts said he gets calls from parents in Iceland, Europe and across the United States who are concerned about how much their children are texting and the impact it's having on their children's lives.

"If you have a child or teenager who is a hyper-texter, you need to start looking more carefully at his or her life, because there are some things going on that could be really damaging," said Roberts.

According to the American Public Health Association, a study suggests teenagers who are hyper-texters are 40 per cent more likely to smoke, 43 percent more likely to be binge drinkers, 41 per cent more likely to use drugs, 55 percent more likely to get into physical fights, three point five times more likely to have sex and 90 percent of those report having four or more sexual partners.

"That doesn't mean that the hyper-texting is causing those behaviors, it means there is a correlation. So people who do one tend to do others," said Roberts.

Roberts said it's difficult to put a number on what constitutes hyper-texting. He said it's the extent to which the texting gets in the way of someone having a functional, balanced and healthy life.

"So in the case of Blair, that behavior was preventing her from having a functional academic life," said Roberts.

Roberts said he sees the problem with hyper-texting more with girls than boys, but the boys are doing it too. He helps parents deal with the problem.

"One of the first things I ask them to do is go to the cell phone company and examine the records. How many texts is your child sending out a day? What time of day? Is your child sending texts out during the school day? And how many?," Roberts said.

Roberts said many calls he gets from parents are about their children not paying attention in class, they're not writing down the homework, they are having troubles in school and he said in a disturbingly high number of cases they're sending texts out during class.

Roberts offers four steps to help keep texting from getting out of control.

1. Have tech free time. He recommends that parents have no technology after a certain hour.
2. Have technology free zones in the home. For example, at the dinner table or in the family room where the only technology is the TV.
3. Set limits on screen time because children can text not only from their cell phone but from computers and Xboxes too.
4. Be vigilant as parents. He said parents should stay in touch with what is going on in their children's' lives and be aware how much plays out in the cyber world.

"So monitor how many texts go out a day, again what time of day those texts are being sent out and if you think there is a problem there are a variety of apps and pieces of control software that you can install to monitor your child's usage," said Roberts.

Blair's solution to her falling grades was to eliminate texting during her school day.

"Once she stopped that, low and behold grades went up, missing assignments went way down and today she is a very successful young woman," said Roberts.

While she has committed not to text during the day, the temptation is always there.

"They'll text me in the middle of class and i'll be taking notes so i don't answer," said Blair Osgood.

Roberts said parents should realize many kids go to bed with their cell phones because they don't want to miss anything. So if they're getting texts in the middle of the night, it will interfere with their sleep.

For more information on Roberts and his expertise, click here.

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