Mobile

Sex, drugs, and SMS: A look inside teens’ texting habits

We’ve long suspected teenagers are disgusting animals, and a recent survey from a mobile message monitoring company pretty much confirms those suspicions.

In a data-gathering exercise spanning hundreds of thousands of messages per month from phones across the U.S., TxtWatcher found that around 4 percent of teen-sent text messages include adult or sexual content. Roughly 2.35 percent of messages contained references to drugs, and a further 4 percent contain vulgar content.

(A TxtWatcher rep tells us that “vulgar content” includes terms such as “bastard” and “buttface.” And now, I have accomplished my life goal of using the word “buttface” on the Internet in a professionally acceptable context.)

On average, teens are sending around 65 messages each day. Speaking in solely mathematical terms, this means that the average teenager is sending around 77 sexually explicit messages and 39 drug-related messages each month, as well as more than 1,800 much more boring texts.

Around 2 percent of messages from teens contain images; the study did not discover or discuss the content of those images.

“‘Adult content’ refers to sexually explicit words or phrases that we identify in the text message, and as you can imagine, these phrases can get very graphic,” TxtWatcher rep Dan Maier told VentureBeat via email.

“We have a dictionary containing hundreds of words and phrases, including things like ‘blow job,’ ‘clit,’ ‘f-ck,’ ‘boner,’ etc. This dictionary is dynamically updated by us as well as our customers, who suggest new entries. In addition to sexually explicit words and phrases, we also scan messages for potential sexting, which we flag as the combination of explicit content with a picture.”

Lest you think the TxtWatcher folks are mere stalkers, the company makes a bit of software for Android phones that parents can choose to install on their kids’ devices. So it’s the parents who are doing the stalking. The service launched three months ago and has so far been installed on thousands of teenagers’ phones.

“One thing that makes identifying adult content in text messages difficult is that the text language is constantly evolving,” Maier said. “Teens use shorthand codes and slang to compress the amount of text in a given message, and to keep parents in the dark. So we also scan for phrases like ’8,’ which actually translates into ‘oral sex.’”

TxtWatcher has, for this specific purpose, developed a “slang translation engine” called SmartAlec to keep parents hip to their offspring’s lingo. For example, did you know (B) means beer? Kids these days…

Still, only .25 percent of teen-sent texts involved alcohol, and less than half a percent contained references to crime, the survey showed. There may be hope yet.

Image courtesy of Golden Pixels LLC, Shutterstock


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