It’s well known in the study of psychology and brain research that improving performance in school, sports, or relationships requires focused concentration. When the mind is scattered, there’s more of a chance that a person’s performance will be not as effective as when he or she is focused.
For instance, let’s say you’re driving and you need to parallel park in a tight spot. Most likely, you’ll turn the radio down so that you can focus on the task at hand. Or if a teen is listening to music while doing his or her homework, neither activity (listening and working on assignments) will be done with high efficiency.
An article in the New York Times points out that texting, which can be incredibly distracting, can take a toll on a teen’s mental health. From a study done by Pew Research Center, teens are texting over 50 texts per day, and one third of teens are texting 100 or more per day. One in seven teens send more than 200 texts. It’s easier, they say, to text than to make a phone call.
The pattern of over-texting, however, has been a recent concern for doctors and psychologists. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and director at Initiative on Technology believes that the excessive texting may cause a shift in the way teens develop. There’s a constant disruption in a teen’s attention from the task at hand, whatever that might be, to a text, back to his or her current activity, and back to the phone again. There’s very little ability to stay focused.
Although texting isn’t causing mental illness, it might contribute to the severity of a teen’s symptoms. For instance, lack of concentration is a symptom of teen anxiety and depression, and of course, an inability to focus can add to teen academic issues. Some parents, like Greg Hardesty, are trying to take measures to limit the amount of texting their children do. Hardesty’s daughter, Reina, sent 14,528 texts one month. Apparently, she kept the phone by her bed at night and would go to it when her phone buzzed with a text. Of course, with that kind of behavior, texting can also disrupt a teen’s sleeping pattern. And teens are already at a tender developmental stage where sleep might be become a problem.
Sadly, texting can keep families from being present with each other; particularly teens still yearn for the undivided attention of their parents. Reina admits that she’s upset when she walks out of her ballet class and she sees her father focused on his Blackberry and not her. “The fantasy of every adolescent,” she said, “is that the parent is there, waiting, expectant, completely there for them.
More and more texting can disrupt a teen’s ability to perform at school, at work, and be present in relationships. For instance, if a teen is constantly bombarded with texting communication, and he or she feels pressured to answer right away, then the interruption to a thought might erase that thought altogether.
Furthermore, in his 2014 book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, Daniel Siegel illuminates how brain development during adolescence influences teenage behavior and relationships. There is burst of energy in the adolescent brain with a search for what is new. The teen wants to try new things, explore the world, and role-play. Along with this growth in the brain, a teen wants to be surrounded by connection with others. Too much isolation could lead to risky behavior, poor decision-making, and perhaps even mental illness, such as depression. Strong friendships and relationships with family can support healthy adolescent growth.
Texting isn’t the cause of mental illness, but it can certainly interrupt a teen’s behavior, performance in school, and relationships. It can also get in the way of having new ideas, being present in relationships, and their creative thinking.
Hale, J. (2012). The Benefits of Focused Attention. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/05/the-benefits-of-focused-attention/
Hafner, K. (May 25, 2009). Texting May Be Taking A Toll. New York Times. Retrieved on June 23, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/health/26teen.html?_r=0