Research just told us that teen texting can be as compulsive as gambling

It’s not news that a good chunk of us, young and old(er) alike, are glued to our phones. Teenagers are especially guilty, and now science has decided to look into this generation of nascent texters. Just to get some stats to ground us before we dive into the research: According to a 2012 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, three-quarters of teenagers own a cell phone. And of those teens, 63% text every day. We can only imagine how much that number has gone up in the three years since the study was done – especially since it explicitly mentions numbers were up in 2012 from 2009.

Flash forward three years, and new research shows that teens’ texting habits are starting to resemble another compulsive habit that you technically have to be an adult to even develop: gambling. A study published by Psychology of Popular Media Culture last week points out that, specifically, teens are exhibiting signs that compulsive gamblers typically show. These include lying about their time spent texting, snapping at people who interrupt them when they’re texting, and losing sleep due to the amount of time they spend texting.

Head author of the study – Kelly M. Lister-Landman, an assistant professor of psychology at Media, Pa.’s Delaware County Community College – stated in the paper that, “Compulsivity is more than just the number of texts teens are engaging in. What is their relationship with phone use? Do they feel anxious when it’s not around them? When they sit down to eat dinner with their family, do they feel a need to check it? Do they feel compelled to look at it at all times, rather than just answering texts they get?”

It can be easy to brush off signs of these behaviors in others, or attribute them to something less serious, but there’s no denying these behaviors are compulsive in the same way as gambling behaviors are. And the study, which included over 400 students in 8th and 11th grade, went even further to draw the conclusion that texting was affecting female students’ grades; the girls who texted more often saw an inarguable decline in their grades.

Kimberly Young, a psychologist who wasn’t involved in the study but has done research of her own and even founded the Center for Internet Addiction, notes further that the issues stem from the actual attention span of teens and not the phones/texting themselves — even though technology does seem to be the main culprit of what is actually distracting teens nowadays.

Texting vs. gambling is definitely something to think about – and something we can all get involved in. A gentle reminder to teens about what is going on outside that bright little screen could be hugely beneficial to reversing this compulsion trend. And putting down our own phones, even briefly, might be the first step.

Related reading: 

These little girls just gave grown men advice for texting women and it’s hilarious

How I quit texting (and became a better friend)

(Image via ABC Family)