American Morning

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April 20th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

Can teen texting become an addiction?

Editor's Note: For most teenagers, cell phone texting has become a lifeline, but is it an addiction? Ask many parents and they'll say yes. Today in our original series, "Texting 2 Much?" our Deb Feyerick talks to teens with excessive texting habits. Tomorrow on American Morning, we talk to teachers to find out what some schools are doing to keep kids' fingers off their phones.

By CNN Correspondent Deborah Feyerick with producer Dana Garrett

(CNN) – Get a group of teenage girls together anywhere in America and chances are they'll talk about other girls, boys and what to do for the weekend. Oh, they'll also text. A lot. Even if they're sitting right next to each other, the cell phone is out, the fingers moving quickly over the tiny keyboard.

"I don't think it's being addicted to my cell phone," says sophomore Sara Marshall. "It's the need to be talking with my friends and the cell phone is just the way I do that."

Marshall, who lives in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, says she sends a few hundred texts a day, the same amount as her friends. On average, teens send upwards of 3,200 texts a month, according to the Neilson Company.

Three teens discuss their extreme texting habits Video

A new study by the Pew Research Center finds, when it comes to teens, texting beats all other means of communication hands down, including face-to-face, e-mail, instant messaging and talking on the phone.

Why the constant need to stay in touch?

"You feel like you're missing something," says 15-year-old April Polubiec, one of Marshall's best friends. "Like, I feel like if someone texts me, oh, I missed out on the moment."

The need for instant communication not only has a social component, but a chemical one as well, says neuroscientist and sleep doctor Michael Seyffert. "Neuro-imaging studies have shown that those kids who are texting have that area of the brain light up the same as an addict using heroin."

Seyffert says the instant gratification of texting and getting a text back floods the brain's pleasure center with the mood enhancer dopamine. "They have to have it. And they will actually describe, when I don't have it I feel bad, I feel anxious or I feel sad."

Teens admit their moods can change based on who they're texting and how quickly they respond. "If someone responds right away, you're like 'Yay! They responded.' If someone responds two to three hours later you're like, 'What's going on,'" says sophomore Sarah Matzkin.

80 percent of all kids own a cell phone and the rate of texting has skyrocketed 600% in three years. Says Marshall, "It's right by my bed when I go to sleep. And right by my bed when I wake up. It's like the first thing I go to."

Sound addictive? Well, it could be.

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician who specializes in media and calls himself a "mediatrician," dispenses advice to parents. He says, "If teens have a craving ... that can only be satisfied by doing it, then that moves into the realm of addictive behaviors – more like a gambling addiction or a sex addiction, something that is behavioral as opposed to a substance addiction in the sense of heroin or alcohol."

At the sleep clinic at JFK Medical Center at Seton Hall University, Dr. Seyffert says one in five teens are interrupting their sleep to text, some of them even texting in their sleep.

"Adolescence, in general, is a time for risky behavior, there's more experimentation, however, when you add sleep deprivation, it's like giving a kid a bottle or two of alcohol, depending on how sleep deprived they are."

Seyffert says in worst cases, kids may become irritable and fall behind in school.

Although Marshall and her friends April Polubiec and Sarah Matzkin get good grades and take part in after-school activities, in the last week, each has had her cell phone taken away for texting in class.

Tracey Bailey, of the Association of American Educators, says cell phones are, if not the single greatest problem in terms of discipline, they're at least in the top three problems.

Despite the potential downsides, parents say texting has become a necessary evil.

"I had to actually get text messaging in order to communicate with my kids," says Marshall's mom Kate, a teacher.

While the texting can be addictive, many teens feel confident they can quit cold turkey. Says Marshall, "Maybe I'd have some withdrawal symptoms, I'd get anxious and wonder what's going on. But once I realized nothing bad is happening, it's fine without my phone."


Filed under: Living • Texting 2 Much?
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. flo

    what happen to communication face to face, what are kids doing with cell phones anyway, if they can't pay the bill they shouldn't have one

    April 23, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  2. Tori

    I cannot believe some of you are actually for jamming devices. In the age of school shootings and massacres, do you really want your son or daughter to be unable to contact you when necessary?
    It's the problem of the parents honestly. If they cannot teach their child to act responsibly, it's certainly not the fault of public education.

    April 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  3. JD

    I caught the tail-end of something about texting in school on CNN this morning. At least one teacher or administrator was embracing the addiction as a "new learning tool." Who put the kids in charge of determing learning methodologies? People text while driving. Last summer, a young teenage lady fell into a manhole while walking and texting. Naturally the family sued the town.

    I teach college and students text during class. It's their nickel. I showed a film of Macbeth, sat in the back and watched a student text furiously throughout. Non-stop. I taught high school for a year a few years back. I was instructed to confiscate cellphones. I refused because that's private property and I couldn't see the Administration coming to my defense when the parents filed complaints.

    The technology is not necessarily the problem. The abuse of it is. Texting/cellphone addiction is real but the dysfunction or pathology lies with the user, not the device.

    JD

    April 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  4. John

    It amazes me at the number of parents who state how they deal with misuse of cellphones by their children. What we should be seeing is parents who don't have to deal with these problems at all. These would be the intelligent parents who simple forbid their children from having the telephones in the first place. These devices are absolutely unnecessary. Parents: It is not child abuse if you fail to give your child a cellphone.

    April 21, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  5. Shaking my Head

    This is not an issue the Dept. of Education should deal with. THE PARENTS ARE A SLEEP AT THE WHEEL. I have 3 teen girls. I informed them if their cell phone causes their grads to slip or if they have their cell phones taken because they were texting in class. I will take their phone for a month. If there was a second offense...they will not have a cell phone for the rest of the school year. We have to help the teacher.....teach our children.

    April 21, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  6. John

    These devices are actually radio transceivers. Radio transmission is regulated by the FCC. The FCC should make it a requirement that all operators of these devices must be eighteen years of age, pass a test of knowledge of radio technology, and be licensed to operate a radio transmitter. Enforcement of such requirements would get these devices out the the hands of these "children". I don't agree with the poster who said "picking your battles". She is simply capitulating to the pupils. It is also apparent that parents are likewise surrendering to their children by allowing them to possess the devices. Kids should have balls, bats, and jump ropes as toys; not electronic devices. School administers need to aggressively enforce prohibitions of all electronic devices on school property. I like the idea of requiring parents to pay a fine in order to reclaim confiscated devices. I would also agree with the poster who said that parents ought to be required to accompany their child in satifying disciplinary actions. This would straighten out a lot of miscreants quickly.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  7. Shaking my Head

    It is amazing how weak we are at raising our children. Back in the day you was told not to talk in class. If you disobeyed you was sent out the room or your parent was notified. Your parent corrected the behavior. Texting is the replacement to talking in class. Where is the parent to correct the behavior? How does giving into the texting make our children competitive in the Tech world of tomorrow? I bet they do not have this issue in China, Japan, or Germany.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  8. John

    I agree with the above person who gave the info about jamming cell phone signals; since we're able to find money for computers, cameras, and etc. we should also add a jammer unit to every classroom. That will take care of the problem, because I have been places where signs advise that has been done (doctor offices, hospitals, etc.) and they work real well!

    April 21, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  9. Mr. Gijon

    I text at school, but not during class because my mentality is that education is a lot more important than what "is going down this Friday night." At the end of the day it all depends on what moral values these children get at home.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  10. K Dierkes

    I guess we could link texting to childhood obesity now because instead of "getting up" and going to a freinds house just punch a couple of letters on your keyboard!!!! Sad, very sad.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:45 am |
  11. Evelyn Milton

    Cell phones are such a problem in schools. I don't understand why the department of education, or some federal power, will not issue a requirement for all public schools to have cell phone blockers/jammers. If the Communications Act of 1934 is "blocking" it, amend it. Are America's childern's education not more important then the FCC? If technology is a problem, use technology to solve it.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  12. Rhonda

    Please stop promoting the idea that texting (or anything else) is an absolute given for our young people, This is not only incorrect but also sends a not so subtle message that if someone isn't texting then they are not normal. As someone who not only uses a cell phone and texting I make a choice to use it and make choices to use it courteously and responsibly.
    The debate about how much texting is too much is not going to be over any time soon. None of these debates are ever conclusive until a negative result can be proven/documented.
    However the conversation about how and when texting is acceptable should not be something that has a lot of debate. when someone is speaking to an audience,i.e. teaching-turn off the cell phone and pay attention.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  13. Bill

    One simple solution at schools is to install cell phone jammers and jam the signal on school property. See http://www.phonejammer.com

    I came across this device when I was looking for a solution to people visiting my home and yakking endlessly on their cell phone. Now I jam the signal and nobody has questioned why their cell phone no longer rings at my place. :)

    April 21, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  14. ryan

    putting emphasis on keyboards can be detrimental to the development of writing skills. more research should be done.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  15. paul

    every one of those phones was provided by a parent that knows the rules as well as their children. all cell phone suppliers provide parental controls that allow you to turn off the phone automatically during school hours but still allow the child to reach his/her parents. so who is the problem here?

    April 21, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  16. Mitchell

    Honestly I watch students in my college level classes get on their data plan cell phones and google test questions. Problem. Teachers in schools that allow texting don't realize that it's not just texting anymore. They are actually cheating right in front of their faces.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  17. Derek

    The problem is that parents do nothing when a child is caught doing something in school they shouldn't. There are no serious consequences for breaking the rules in school. Suspension does nothing as most parents work. If a child gets suspended then basically it becomes a free day at home with no supervision. I think if kids get to the point of suspension the schools should require parents to join their kids at school for a day of garbage collection or something unpleasent. Once the parents have to commit their time due to their kids bad behavior perhaps they will become more involved.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  18. Ms. Nat

    Schools should capitalize on the students' interest in texting to teach responsible behavior by adding a texting recess to the instructional day. A five minute morning and afternoon texting recess will allow students to stay connected and address classroom distraction concerns.

    April 21, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  19. Nathan

    I'm going to take a different perspective on this. Follow me here.
    High schools were originally created roughly around 1910 to ensure that workers were prepared for jobs that required more relevant skills. Initially, High schools/Secondary Education taught practical workplace skills. In keeping with that rule, most jobs today, from Stocking shelves at a Big block store, to delivering parcels, to office work, to Cable services, rely heavily on handheld electronic devices, and all those seperate jobs fall across separate income brackets. This makes aptitude with the use of Cell phones and similar devices, and the tertiary skills that come with it, more universally essential then most courses taught at the average high school. In this sense, the battle to get cell phones out of high schools is fairly ironic,

    What schools need to do (and some have done) is to take students' interest in Telecom devices and use it to further education. This will make students participate with greater interest with any subject, because of the manner its being presented. this will translate into better participation, better grades, and give the students a chance to gain undeniably essential workplace skills. I do agree however that the current manner in which the youth are using telecom devices is disruptive.

    April 21, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  20. lori s

    as a high school classroom teacher, i've fully embraced the concept of 'picking your battles.' over 90 percent of student's own cell phones, although our campus policy states cell phones aren't to be used in the classroom, i know student's text. my policy is as long as i don't hear it or see it, then i don't fight that battle w/ them. parents are aware of what classroom teachers are up against as it relates to cell phone usage and they allow it-so what do you do? i just ask that on days we are having an assessment/test, they all go in a box with the student's name.

    April 21, 2010 at 7:10 am |
  21. georgia

    School is for learning. electronic devices like cell phones, blackberries etc. have no place in the class room unless the student is working on a computer. communication Technology has its place and that is not in the classroom.

    April 21, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  22. Edgar

    Let us not forget that adults can greatly affect the young generations. Technologically addicted hermits are constantly on their cellphones, whether it is talking, reading an e-mail, or texting, it is this initial will to constantly use the phone that keeps kids on the same page. With all these smart-phones coming out making lives more "convenient," it is hard to acknowledge what the true problem is. It does not matter at all, we all teach young ones to follow in our foot-steps.

    April 21, 2010 at 6:11 am |
  23. Supervisor

    the problem of continuous texting continues to the workplace. This younger generation is either texting, emailing, or checking into facebook constantly. If I get 4 hours of productivity a day, I'm lucky – and then they wonder why they don't get a raise!

    April 20, 2010 at 11:24 am |