Are Teens Under Pressure to Be Sexting? (research)

I know Michel Walrave for quite some time now and I forgot to share his research here. This research he did together with Wannes Heirman & Lara Hallam, published in Behavior & Information Technology, studied the beliefs, social pressures, and predictors of sexting in adolescents. The press probably will focus on the 26 percent of teens who are sending sexting-messages, but the research has much more to it.

From the press release:

Sexting is defined as the sharing of sexually explicit text messages or naked/semi-naked self-pictures using mobile phones. 26% of the teens surveyed had engaged in sexting in the two months preceding the survey.

Adolescents revealed that they sext for attention, to lower the chances of catching STDs, and to find a romantic partner. The concepts of receiving a bad reputation, or of being blackmailed, did not appear to influence their motivations. The authors note that “Remarkably, only the behavioral beliefs that expected positive outcomes of sexting were significant in predicting adolescents’ willingness to engage in it.”

Friends and romantic partners were found to be the only significant social pressures that affect an individual’s motivation to sext: “The more positive the perceived social pressure that originates from these two categories of referents — who mostly belong to the peer group — the more adolescents will be inclined to engage in sexting.” Negative pressures from parents and teachers did not affect motivations.

Adolescents were most likely to sext if they had complete trust in the recipient. Likewise, a lack of trust would have a significantly adverse effect. In addition, the more positive social pressure they had from romantic partners, the more they were inclined to sext. The belief that parents would monitor their mobile phones was not significant to the study group.

The researchers’ findings confirm that: “Rather than adapting their motivations to sext to their own subjective evaluations, adolescents are influenced relatively more by the social pressure that they anticipate receiving from significant others.” Girls had a more negative attitude towards sexting than boys, and experience more negative social pressure to sext than boys do.

The research concludes: “Our results suggest that in order to reduce sexting among adolescents, preventive initiatives should allude to what significant others in teenagers’ lives think about them engaging in sexting.”

The study surveyed 498 adolescents aged between 15 and 18 years. It used the predictive value of personal attitudes, subjective norm and perceived behavioral control by applying the theory of planned behavior (individual’s behavior is directly determined by his/her intention to perform that behavior).

The researchers offer more specific ideas for targets and intervention for policy makers and educators:

  • Awareness-raising initiatives focusing on peer pressure and the acceptability of sexting
  • Integrating the topic of sexting in adolescents’ sexual education
  • Opportunities for young people to engage in discussions
  • Teaching adolescents how to cope with the pressure

You can download the article here, this is the abstract:

Adolescent sexting – the electronic swapping of sexually intimate texts or images – has attracted significant media and policy attention. However, questions remain about the predictors of this phenomenon, in which mobile phones play a central role in adolescents’ exploration of sexuality. Therefore, a survey involving 498 adolescents aged between 15 and 18 years was conducted. The first aim of this study is to determine the predictive value of personal attitudes, subjective norm (SN) and perceived behavioural control by applying the theory of planned behaviour (TPB). As the second aim, we wish to assess the relative importance of the most salient beliefs underpinning the TPB components, since this will allow us to gain a more nuanced insight into the characteristics of adolescent sexting. Analyses reveal that SN is the most important predictor, followed by adolescents’ attitudes towards sexting. Perceived behavioural control is significantly but weakly associated with teenagers’ sexting intentions. Within SN, friends and romantic partners represent the most important sources of social pressure, while only positive behavioural outcomes are found to affect adolescents’ sexting intentions. The most important control belief affecting adolescents’ intention to sext is the belief that it occurs relatively more often among those whom adolescents feel they can trust entirely.

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