Adolescent girls who text compulsively are more likely than their male peers to do poorly in school, according to new research by the American Psychological Association. The study is the first to identify compulsive texting as significantly related to poor academic adjustment.
“It appears that it is the compulsive nature of texting, rather than sheer frequency, that is problematic,” said lead researcher Kelly M. Lister-Landman, Ph.D., of Delaware County Community College in Pennsylvania.
“Compulsive texting is more complex than frequency of texting. It involves trying and failing to cut back on texting, becoming defensive when challenged about the behavior, and feeling frustrated when one can’t do it.”
Texting has become teens’ preferred method of communication, with an average of 167 texts being sent and received per day, according to a Pew Internet and American Life Project study by Lenhart in 2012. That study found that 63 percent of teens text on a daily basis, while only 39 percent use their cell phones for voice calls.
For the current study, the researchers surveyed 403 students (211 girls, 192 boys) in grades eight and 11 from schools in a semi-rural town in the Midwest. Most came from households with two parents (68 percent) and were primarily white (83 percent), which was representative of the demographic characteristics in the school district.
The researchers developed a Compulsive Texting Scale to determine whether texting interfered with the teens’ ability to complete tasks; how preoccupied they were with texting; and whether they tried to hide their texting behavior, among other relevant factors.
The students also completed a questionnaire that focused on their academic performance and how well-adjusted they were in school. Only in girls was there found to be a negative link between compulsive texting and school performance, which included grades, school bonding, and feeling academically competent.
Girls do not text more frequently than do boys, but they appear to text for different purposes, Lister-Landman said.
“Borrowing from what we know about Internet communication, prior research has shown that boys use the Internet to convey information while girls use it for social interaction and to nurture relationships,” she said.
“Girls in this developmental stage also are more likely than boys to ruminate with others, or engage in obsessive, preoccupied thinking, across contexts. Therefore, it may be that the nature of the texts girls send and receive is more distracting, thus interfering with their academic adjustment.”
The researchers note that the study had some limitations in that it included self-report responses from primarily white students in a small town in the Midwest. Future research could involve observing students while texting, analyzing monthly phone bills and interviewing parents, for example.
“In addition, it would be interesting to study adolescents’ motivations for texting, as well as the impact of multitasking on academic performance,” Lister-Landman said.