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Teens' Antisocial Texts May Foretell Bad Behavior

But teenagers also use texting in positive ways, study finds.

Teens' Antisocial Texts May Foretell Bad Behavior

FRIDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Teens who text about bad behaviors such as drug use or fighting are more likely to actually engage in those behaviors as well, a new study finds.

"We were interested in how adolescents use electronic communication, particularly text messaging," Samuel Ehrenreich, a post-doctoral researcher in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas, Dallas, said in a university news release.

"We examined how discussing antisocial behavior -- substance abuse, property crimes, physical aggression, that sort of thing -- predicts actually engaging in this problem behavior," Ehrenreich said. "Basically, does talking about bad behavior predict bad behavior?"

The researchers looked at the texts of 172 ninth-grade students, whose behavior before and after the school year was rated by the students, their teachers and their parents, according to the study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Overall, less than 2 percent of the texts were about antisocial behavior -- with boys and girls sending similar types of messages.

The researchers found a strong link between antisocial text messages and higher ratings of antisocial and aggressive behavior at the end of the school year.

"We know that peers are really influential in an adolescent's development," Ehrenreich said. "We also know that peer influence can lead to antisocial behavior at times, and this form of communication provides a new opportunity for peer influence."

"Texting is instantaneous and far-reaching, and it has these unique characteristics that make it all the more powerful," he said. "This provides a new opportunity for peer influence."

But the study findings don't mean texting is all bad.

"We also saw positive, meaningful communications," Ehrenreich said. "We saw a lot of really heartfelt encouragement that goes on, on the spot, when the students needed it. I think there is a lot that's both good and bad, just like any other form of communication."

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers general rules for disciplining teens.  

SOURCE: University of Texas, Dallas, news release, Sept. 10, 2013

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