On the surface, it would seem to be one of those studies compiled by Captain Obvious; teenage girls who compulsively text are more likely to perform poorly in school.
Really? That surprises someone? If you are spending all your time thinking or worrying about the next text, you might be overlooking the next test.
But wait a minute, there's more to it. While female compulsive texters do poorly, their male counterparts with the same compulsion do better in school – better grades and better relationships.
Not so obvious after all
“It appears that it is the compulsive nature of texting, rather than sheer frequency, that is problematic,” said lead researcher Kelly M. Lister-Landman, of Delaware County Community College.
“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.”
167 texts per day
Texting has become second nature to adolescents. A 2012 Pew Internet study estimated they send an average of 167 texts per day. The study found 63% of teens report texting on a daily basis, while only 39% use their mobile phones for voice calls.
The study subjects included 211 girls and 192 boys in grades 8 and 11. They all attended schools in a semi-rural town in the Midwest. Most came from households with two parents and were primarily white, which closely mirrored the demographic characteristics in the school district.
The study was designed to unearth key information. How preoccupied were the subjects with texting? How much did it interfere with other tasks? How preoccupied were subjects with texting? Did they ever try to hide their texting behavior?
Answers were then matched up with participants' grades. Only girls showed a negative association between compulsive texting and school performance, which included not just grades but school bonding and feeling academically competent.
Texting for different reasons
The study found that girls don't seem to text more than boys, but they do text for different reasons than the boys do.
“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,” Lister-Landman 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.”
Lister-Landman is the first to admit that her findings have limitations – the data is highly dependent on the self-reporting observations of the participants themselves.
She said she would like to pursue the topic by observing students' texting habits, examining phone records and interviewing parents.
“In addition, it would be interesting to study adolescents’ motivations for texting, as well as the impact of multitasking on academic performance,” she said.