Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Jan. 25, 2013

Some New Research on Teens and Texting

Project Manager, Family Online Safety Institute

When I speak with parents about online safety, I usually begin my presentations on an uplifting note with an excerpt from a lecture by Professor David Finkelhor, during which he makes the case that teens today are doing extraordinarily well and, by almost any metric of success (such as higher academic performance, civic engagement, lower suicide and teen pregnancy rates), teens today are doing better than previous generations. Professor Finkelhor notes one significant exception to this good news -- obesity. In that category, the numbers indicate that kids today are more at risk than their parents and grandparents. 

A recent study suggests that cell phones may be able to provide some help. A study conducted at the University of Arizona and released in the Jan/Feb issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior highlights texting as a potential ally to combat obesity. 

In the study, most adolescents between the ages 12-18, indicated that they were open to receiving texts about health on their phones. The study also noted that the tone and way these messages were phrased was important to their acceptance. “[P]hrases like "you should," "always" and "never" did not go over well, while softer words like "try" and "consider" were much better received. Likewise, texts introduced by the words "did you know" also generally were disliked, with teens saying the phrase made them immediately not want to know whatever came next.” 

Adolescents responded positively to information about the health habits of others in their age group and to information dispersed in an interactive way (such as quizzes) or in a way that they could act upon (such as recipes). 

Researchers speculate that the results of this study may encourage the development of text message-based programs to distribute health information. The researchers noted that it is important to find ways to reach youth during their middle school years because it is the age when they begin making more independent decisions about their food and physical activity. 

This study on texting and physical activity is one of numerous recent studies noting positive ways cell phones are being used to enhance our kids’ lives. 

There have been studies about how cell phones, and texting in particular, may help with phonetics and spelling; other studies discuss how cell phones enhance parent/child relationships; and even as a way to help introverted and shy teens

So, while at times parents and teachers can become concerned about their teens being too attached to their devices, it is important to remember the many ways these tools are being used to help improve our lives. 

Cover image courtesy of Flickr