Texting May Be A Tip-Off For Delinquent Behavior In Adolescents
September 10, 2013

Texting May Be A Tip-Off For Delinquent Behavior In Adolescents

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Texting about antisocial topics and behaviors can indicate the likelihood that an adolescent will take part in more rule-breaking, delinquent or aggressive behavior, according to new research published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

The results of the study, which was led by Samuel Ehrenreich of the University of Texas at Dallas School of Behavior and Brain Sciences, is the first to directly, naturally and unobtrusively observe text messaging between adolescents and their parents, as well as how it relates to future involvement in antisocial activities, the researchers explained in a statement on Monday.

According to Ehrenreich and his colleagues, 172 ninth-grade students from 47 US schools sent and received a total of six million SMS messages via Blackberry devices during the one-year study. Each of the messages were archived, and four days’ worth of text messaging per individual were analyzed for mentions of selected topics, including the use or purchase of illegal substances, property crime, physical aggression and other types of rule breaking.

Each study participant’s behavior before and after their ninth grade year was rated by themselves, their teachers and their parents. The researchers found that the participants often used text messages to coordinate antisocial activities, sometimes while at school. Furthermore, they reported that texting with peers about these types of activities could not only provide easy access to information about illicit or antisocial behaviors, that it could also reinforce the idea that those type of behaviors are accepted by their friends.

“Although the research team noted that text messaging also enhanced prosocial communication, they believe that the private nature of text messaging provided an ideal forum to plan and discuss antisocial activities beyond the realm of adult supervision,” they said. “The research team pointed out that youth who frequently engaged in antisocial SMS discussions may already be on a trajectory of increasing antisocial behavior.”

In addition to their hypothesis that grouping deviant adolescents together increases their overall involvement in antisocial activities, they report that communicating about antisocial topics with deviant peers was associated with an increased likelihood that they will become involved in rule-breaking and/or aggressive behaviors, such as striking someone in anger, substance abuse, theft or other behavior that breaks the law or violates social norms.

“Text messaging appeals to adolescents because they are able to discuss deviant topics in plain sight without adult supervision, and evade normal efforts to be monitored,” said Ehrenreich, who emphasized the importance of teachers and school administrators limiting students' ability to text throughout the school day. “SMS communication is a meaningful avenue for deviant peer affiliation, and may warrant increased parental monitoring.”