A new US study finds that teens who are getting into trouble often leave behind digital clues in their text messages.
Scientists from the University of Texas at Dallas gave BlackBerry devices and service plans to 172 US high-school freshmen from nearly 50 different schools and told the students their texts would be monitored. After a year, the research team compiled nearly 6 million texts, LiveScience reports. For each subject, they looked at four days' worth of text messages.
"We were interested in how adolescents use electronic communication, particularly text messaging," said head researcher Dr. Samuel Ehrenreich in a statement. "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. Basically, does talking about bad behavior predict bad behavior?"
Texts were collected and stored offsite in a secure database. The participants were rated before and after the school year for rule breaking and aggressive behavior by parents and teachers and in self reports.
Overall the rate of antisocial texts was small, at less than 2 percent of the total text messages sent and received. "However, from this small percentage of messages, a strong link was found between those teenagers exchanging antisocial texts and the ratings of antisocial and aggressive behavior at the end of the school year," the researchers wrote.
"We know that peers are really influential in an adolescent's development," added Ehrenreich. "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, far reaching and it has these unique characteristics that make it all the more powerful, and this provides a new opportunity for peer influence," he added.
"Texting is meaningful, and within the archive [of texts] 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. Texting matters."
Findings were published online Monday in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.