Teens who are getting into trouble might leave digital clues to their wayward behavior in text messages, a new study shows.
A group of researchers compiled an archive of nearly 6 million teen texts over the course of a school year. They examined four days' worth of messages from each participant in the study.
Most of the teens' texts were innocuous, but the researchers focused on the small portion (less than 2 percent) of the messages that involved deviant deeds.
"We examined how discussing antisocial behavior — substance abuse, property crimes, physical aggression, that sort of thing — how discussing that predicts actually engaging in this problem behavior," Samuel Ehrenreich, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Texas, Dallas, said in a statement. "Basically, does talking about bad behavior predict bad behavior?"
Ehrenreich and colleagues found a strong link between exchanging texts about bad behavior and an increase in antisocial and aggressive acts by the end of the school year.
Teens are famous for being easily influenced by their peers, and texting could be a powerful avenue for peer influence, the researchers said. The teens in the study sent an average of 60 texts per day and a majority admitted texting during class.
"We know that peers are really influential in an adolescent's development," Ehrenreich explained in a statement. "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."
While Ehrenreich said texting may warrant more parental monitoring and stricter limits on students' ability to text at school, he noted that not all teen texting is bad. The study's collection of messages also found that texting could be a positive force for adolescents.
Source: Live Science