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'Hypertexting' Lumped In With Other Risky Teen Behaviors

By Kimberly Hill
Nov 9, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Once upon a time, the word "hypertexting" referred to the process of linking one page of text to another through a specific Internet protocol. Now, public health researchers are using it to describe the practice of sending mobile phone text messages in the extreme: "hyper," as in lots, and "texting" as in, well, texting.

'Hypertexting' Lumped In With Other Risky Teen Behaviors

As it turns out, teenagers who engage in "hypertexting," which the researchers define as sending more than 120 text messages per school day, also have a propensity for doing other extreme, often risky, things -- like using illegal drugs or binge drinking. The research team saw similar trends among those who "hypernetwork" -- that is, spend more than three hours per weekly on social networking sites.

Bundles of Risky Behaviors

The research team, led by Scott Frank, M.D., M.S., associate professor of family medicine with Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine, surveyed a cross-section of high school students from the Midwest about particular sets of behaviors. Among those teenagers surveyed, just under 20 percent reported hypertexting.

Those who fell into this hypertexting group were much more likely to also report engaging in other risky behaviors. For example, hypertexters were more than 40 percent more likely to have tried smoking cigarettes, twice as likely to have experimented with alcohol, and 43 percent more likely to already have engaged in binge drinking.

Among other physically dangerous activities, the teens who reported hypertexting also were 55 percent more likely to have been a physical fight and a little more than 40 percent more likely to have used illicit drugs. They were 90 percent more likely to report having had four or more sexual partners.

The findings were similar among those teenagers who said that they spent three or more hours per day on social networking sites. Hypernetworkers, who accounted for about 11 percent of the teenagers surveyed, had a higher likelihood of reporting stress, depression, suicidal behavior, substance abuse, fighting, poor sleep and poor grades. They also tended to watch more television, and they reported that their parents were more permissive.

Thus, texting while driving appears to be only one small -- though highly publicized -- problem with over-use of texting technology, said Frank.

The Correlation or Causation Dilemma

The temptation is to assume that using high-tech communication channels may indeed be at the root of many teens' problems. However, behavioral studies are not nearly so simplistic, cautioned Ellen Bratslavsky, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Cuyahoga Community College.

The problem always is one of distinguishing between correlation and causation, she told TechNewsWorld.

Correlation is a process through which researchers find that certain behaviors are found alongside others; people who do some things also do other things. Causation, though, is a much more specific relationship. To establish causation, researchers would have to show that a particular behavior leads to another. That is not the case in the Case Western study.

Still, researchers long have observed that teens and young adults who engage in one risky behavior are more likely to also engage in others, stressed Bratslavsky. For this reason, she groups certain subjects together in her psychology classes -- smoking cigarettes, drinking, drug use, and unsafe sex represent one such grouping.

We can assume that certain conditions in teens' lives might lead to more than one risky behavior, said Bratslavsky. Parental permissiveness, for instance, might be present in the lives of more teenagers who smoke cigarettes and drink before they're of age.

Parental permissiveness or absence might also be a factor in the lives of teenagers who have unfettered access to mobile phone and other screen-based technologies and who have no limits placed on their use of tools such as social networking sites.

Parents need to look at more areas than texting while driving when overseeing teeangers' use of mobile phones, study author Frank concluded.

Of course, dividing attention while driving is very dangerous. In addition, though, excessive use of communication technology is associated with other risky behaviors, and parents, he said, should help their children stay safe.

Frank was unavailable to respond to TechNewsWorld's specific questions regarding his research.

The research findings are being presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Denver, Colo.

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