Unlimited text message plans have created conditions for doubling the number of text messages sent in just 12 months. According to the Nielson Company, American teenagers are sending an average of 2, 272 text message per month, or about 80 per day. All of those texts are impacting their health in ways you might not think.
The obvious impact is on the thumbs. While the texting phenomina is too new to have specific data on repetitive stress injuries, many experts who are correlating the repetitive stress injuries related to computers are beginning to conclude that temporary and/or permanent damage to the thumbs is not too far off in the future.
But while their thumbs may not show signs of wear because of their youth, this is a group that needs extra sleep related to the major changes happening in their body. Yet, many teens are operating under chronic sleep deprivation because of the habit of texting through the night – waking up in between short rounds of light sleep to reply to conversations then dozing off again.
All of this is driven by the need for constant connection through instant communication. This distraction of instant communication creates a certain amount of anxiety as the phone rings (or vibrates) in their pocket every minute or two. If relaxation comes from being in the moment with stillness and quiet, the ringing/vibrating cell phone is the antithesis of this mindfulness. The constant distraction of the phone makes staying on task a challenge which undermines the ability for long term concentration and focus. Naturally, this impacts school grades, which leads to more anxiety and so forth.
So, while the generation of instant communication isn’t going to unplug from the world, we do need to teach our teens about balance and the importance of having time for communication and time focused on other tasks. Time management experts will tell you that to be most effective, set aside time devoted specifically for communication and separate time focused on other tasks – like homework. We can also teach our teens the wonderful practice of letting a call go to voice mail, rather than answering it during those non-communication times – like what teen actually places a telephone call to speak to someone? – well we can try. One of the rules at our house is no calls or texts during meal times and we also have limits on how late or how early our kids can use their phone during the day.
But in order for all of this to work, we adults need to model the same behaviors that we want our teens to display. Let’s make sure that we put down our blackberries, turn off the ringers and let it go to voicemail in order to be present in the presence of our kids. Because that’s what they really want from us anyway. Besides, they won’t be kids for much longer. So let’s give all of our thumbs a rest, at least for a little while, each day and connect face to face.
This photo illustrates a new element to the health impact of texting – texting while driving! In case you didn’t notice, take a look at the speedometer! Read more about this photo at this link: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/teens-texting-and-driving/