I was astounded to read about new survey research from Scott Frank, MD, MS, who — when commenting about his new findings — was widely quoted as saying, “The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers.”
Of course it would indeed be startling if his study had demonstrated a clear causative relationship — you know, like A causes B — between texting and the unhealthy teen behaviors the researchers studied.
But of course, this is not what they found. They conducted a survey and, like researchers do, found that a bunch of variables are inter-related. What that relationship exactly is, is anybody’s guess.
The headlines say it all, in terms of the continuing sad state of health journalism online:
Too Much Texting Increases Health Risks in Teens
- Bill Hendrick, WedMD
Texting poses health risk for teens: study
- Chicago Tribune
Study: Excessive texting leads to risky behavior in teens
- ABC2 News
But it’s all pure crap.
You could just as easily write the following headlines:
Teens Who Smoke, Drink Also Text a Lot
Outgoing Teens Like to Do Things Outgoing Teens Like to Do
Teens Who Enjoy Sex Like to Text Too!
Scott Frank, MD, MS should be ashamed of himself (or go back to school and learn Research 101 methods). To make broad, sweeping conclusions about human behaviors based upon a single study’s associative data is sloppy at best, and unethical at worst.
What did the research really show? Not much. Teens who have more sex than other teens, and who are more likely to try “risky” behaviors — such as smoking or drinking — text more than other teens.
Maybe it’s simply because they have a more active (dare I say, positive?) social life.
Not so “startling” when put into that sort of reasonable context.
Read the full article: Hyper-Texting Associated with Health Risks for Teens
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Nov 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2010). Bad Research: Texting, Health Risks and Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 26, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/11/09/bad-research-texting-health-risks-and-teens/