An emerging portrait of emerging adults in the news, part 1

In recent weeks, a number of studies have been reported on that discuss the beliefs and behaviors of the younger generation, those who are now between high school and age 30 (an age group that could also be labeled “emerging adults”). In a three-part series, I want to highlight three of these studies because they not only suggest what this group is doing but also hints at the consequences.

Almost a week ago, a story ran along the wires about a new study linking “hyper-texting” and excessive usage of social networking sites with risky behaviors:

Teens who text 120 times a day or more — and there seems to be a lot of them — are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol and drugs than kids who don’t send as many messages, according to provocative new research.

The study’s authors aren’t suggesting that “hyper-texting” leads to sex, drinking or drugs, but say it’s startling to see an apparent link between excessive messaging and that kind of risky behavior.

The study concludes that a significant number of teens are very susceptible to peer pressure and also have permissive or absent parents, said Dr. Scott Frank, the study’s lead author

The study was done at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area last year, and is based on confidential paper surveys of more than 4,200 students.

It found that about one in five students were hyper-texters and about one in nine are hyper-networkers — those who spend three or more hours a day on Facebook and other social networking websites.

About one in 25 fall into both categories.

Hyper-texting and hyper-networking were more common among girls, minorities, kids whose parents have less education and students from a single-mother household, the study found.

Several interesting things to note in this study:

1. It did not look at what exactly is being said/communicated in these texts or in social networking use. This study examines the volume of use – and there are plenty of high school students who are heavily involved with these technologies.

2. One of the best parts of this story is that the second paragraph is careful to suggest that finding an association between these behaviors does not mean that they cause each other. In other words, there is not a direct link between excessive testing and drug use. Based on this dataset, these variables are related. (This is a great example of “correlation without causation.”)

3. What this study calls for is regression analysis where we can control for other possible factors. It would then give us the ability to compare two students with the same family background and same educational performance and isolate whether texting was really the factor that led to the risky behaviors. If I had to guess, factors like family life and performance in school are more important in predicting these risky behaviors. Then, excessive texting for SNS use is an intervening variable. Why this study did not do this sort of analysis is unclear – perhaps they already have a paper in the works.

Overall, we need more research on these associated variables. While it is interesting in itself that there are large numbers of emerging adults who text a lot and use SNS a lot, we ultimately want to know the consequences. Part two and three of this series will look at a few studies that offer some possible consequences.

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