With unlimited text messaging cell phone plans comes a surge in the number of texts sent from teenagers’ cells. Every day, an American teenager sends and receives, on average, almost 80 text messages. That’s 2,272 messages a month, sent from behind the wheel, in classrooms, or while crossing busy streets. This texting behavior worries doctors and psychologists for a host of reasons: Texting is blamed for increased risks of car accidents when teens keep their thumbs on the phones while driving, and now texting is believed responsible for direct issues with physical and mental health, reports Katie Hafner of the New York Times.
Although scientists have not had a chance to develop conclusive findings on the health effects of texting because the phenomenon emerged so recently, they already see that the behavior causes “anxiety, distraction in school, falling grades, repetitive stress injury and sleep deprivation.”
Dr. Martin Joffe, a pediatrician in Greenbrae, California, surveyed two local high schools and found many of the students regularly send hundreds of texts every day. When a text message comes in or goes out every few minutes, it’s almost impossible for a student to stay focused on his or her work. That results in, among other things, poorer school performance and disrupted sleep at night.
Teenagers often rely on text messaging to get immediate updates on their buddies’ lives because they are genuinely interested in what’s going on with their friends. Many of them also are driven by a fear of being “out of the loop,” says Michael Hausauer, psychotherapist in Oakland, California. The nonstop line of communication created by so much texting can, Mr. Hausauer worries, make teenagers feel “frightened and overly exposed.”
The 80-text per day “thumb exercise” may also result in musculoskeletal diseases often found in computer users, said Peter W. Johnson, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington. “Intensive repetitive use of the upper extremities,” be it on the computer keyboard or on a cell phone, can lead to temporary or permanent musculoskeletal disorders.
Teachers and parents are often unaware of the extent to which texting has affected the children’s physical and mental health. But once they learn of the problem and impose some restrictions – such as a no-texting window overnight or a limited number of texts allowed each month – they can see visible improvements in the students’ grades and probably energy level too, from regained quality sleep.