Research about teen texting from Society for Research on Child Development

This was first posted on Society for Research on Adolescence’s blog… here is link if you want to read more about news from conference from other bloggers as well.
SRCD in Montreal, Day 1!   One of the first symposiums I attended, bright and early this morning at 8AM, was about a topic that I am very interested in, the media habits of adolescents, in particular texting. I knew already that texting is the number 2 reason why adolescents use mobile phones.  The number one reason?  Not talking on the phone, but checking the time.   As this symposium confirmed, texting for the 21st century adolescent may be their most frequent form of communication.

I was lucky enough to hear Amanda Lenhart speak, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  She presented research done with her colleagues about the new centrality of mobile phones, calling them a life documenting tool, not only can one text and talk on the phone, but one can also play music, take photos and then share those photos.   This study was comprised of 800 interviews with teens, 12-17, and parents by phone (wonder if they were old fashioned land lines) and nine focus groups.  Some key findings include:

  • From 2006-2009 in the US, texting with friends has taken off,  while the growth of other kinds of communication has remained flat.
  • 75% of teens use cell phones, younger boys comprise a large portion of the 25% of youth who don’t have mobile phones,
  • The teen who texts receives around 50 texts a day, 5 times more than adults who text.  30% of their participants, in particular older girls, sent 100 texts or more a day!
  • Both adults and children reported only 1-5 phone calls a day, empirically confirming a recent NYTimes piece about how people prefer text communication to the phone.

Speaking to another widely discussed NY Times article, 15% of the teens reported receiving a sext (a text with sexual content visual or otherwise) while only 4% reported sending them.  Interestingly enough, there was not a gender difference.  34% reported texting while driving.  Sadly, given that this was self report, chances are the number is much higher.

Another study reported in this symposium by Richard Ling found that boys and girls communicate differently via text.  Girls seem to have longer, more in depth emotionally oriented conversations – text and phone  – and use emoticons,  while boys send shorter, more instrumental texts.   As Patricia Greenfield, the discussant from UCLA, said… It may just be that “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

I was eager to hear what Marion W. Underwood would report, given that her study used archival Blackberry Phone data to track exactly what teens do on phones.  No chance of self report bias here, although the amount of data was obviously overwhelming.  Her data was collected in Texas from 9th graders and measured texting along with possible social and emotional correlates.

Underwood found similar numbers in amount of texts sent a day (to Lenhart) with no gender difference in quantity.  The variance was huge – one person sent 19000 texts in a day!  Boys who text more frequently reported more depression and somatic complaints as well as lower friendship intimacy.  For girls none of these relationships were found, however, girls who text more frequently report more social aggression.  And their parents report more rule breaking.  So boys get depressed through this kind of communication and girls get more aggressive?  I know, I know, correlation not causation. Looking forward to reporting more in Day 2!