Hyper-networking: A new teen health risk category?

Researchers at Case Western Reserve announce that they have found a strong association in teenagers between hyper-networking and sex, fights, drug use, and more.

Two girls, three gadgets...more health problems? ooonaghs_eye/Fickr

Cue deep, foreboding, slightly accusatory voice: "Do you or your friends text more than 120 messages per school day? You may be at greater risk for substance abuse, permissiveness, depression, poor sleep, and more. Don't wait until it's too late. Get help now. Hyper-networking is no joke."

That's the core message behind new research out of the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine Master of Public Health program, whose findings were presented today at the American Public Health Association's 138th Annual Meeting & Exposition in Denver.

The team set out to determine whether binging on communication technologies such as cell phones and social-networking Web sites is associated with poor health behaviors.

They surveyed high school students from what they describe as an "urban Midwestern county" and determined that 1 in 5 teens surveyed was engaged in hyper-texting, which they defined as sending more than 120 text messages per school day.

They also found that, when compared to their classmates, hyper-texters were more than three times as likely to have had sex, almost twice as likely to report four or more sexual partners, twice as likely to have tried alcohol, 55 percent more likely to have been in a physical fight, 41 percent more likely to have tried illicit drugs, and 40 percent more likely to have tried cigarettes.

Additionally, just more than 1 in 10 teens surveyed were hyper-networking, defined as clocking in more than three hours a day on social-networking Web sites. Those teens were 94 percent more likely to have been in a physical fight, 84 percent more likely to have tried illicit drugs, 79 percent more likely to have tried alcohol, 69 percent more likely to have had sex, 62 percent more likely to have tried cigarettes, and 60 percent more likely to report four or more sexual partners.

"This should be a wake-up call for parents to not only help their children stay safe by not texting and driving, but by discouraging excessive use of the cell phone or social Web sites in general," says Scott Frank, lead researcher on the study and director of Case Western's master of public health program, in a news release.

But the numbers only demonstrate correlation. Based on these findings, spending too much time on Facebook and sending text messages could simply be symptomatic of other issues, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, attention deficit disorders, etc., rather than causes of them.

 

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