Date of Award

10-5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Menna, Dr. Rosanne

Keywords

Adolescents, Attachment, Parenting, Sexting

Abstract

The present study examined the nature and prevalence of adolescent sexting, and its relation to parenting behaviours and adolescents’ attachment, in a sample of Canadian adolescents. Participants were 305 adolescents between 14 and 18 years of age (158 females, 147 males). Adolescents completed a paper-and-pencil questionnaire assessing sexting-related behaviours and experiences, attachment, temperament, and experiences of parental warmth, parental-psychological control, parent-child communication, and parental monitoring. The analyses revealed that, among Canadian adolescents, sending and receiving sexual messages and images was more common among older adolescents. There were no gender differences in rates of sending and receiving sexual messages or images, however, males reported forwarding sexual images, and asking others for sexual messages and sexual images, more frequently than did females. Females reported more frequently being asked to send sexual messages and sexual images. Sending and receiving sexual messages and images were more common among adolescents who were in a romantic relationship, and adolescents most commonly cited a relationship partner, or someone with whom they hoped to begin a relationship, as the individual(s) with whom they had sent and/or received sexual messages and images. Results also revealed that better parentchild communication was predictive of lower frequency of adolescent sending of sexual images, and that higher report of adolescent attachment avoidance was predictive of higher frequency of adolescent sending of sexual images. Although parental warmth and parental psychological control did not directly predict adolescent sending of sexual images, these variables were found to have indirect effects on sending sexual images through attachment avoidance. These findings suggest that parent-child communication has a relatively stronger, more direct relation with adolescent sending of sexual images, but that parental warmth and psychological control may also influence this behaviour through formation of adolescents’ working models of relationships. A thematic analysis of participants’ responses to an open-ended question revealed that most adolescents have had passive involvement in sexting, although many also reported use of sexting for a social purpose (i.e., flirtation) or a negative experience with sexting. These findings help to clarify the social and relational processes that are influential in adolescent sending of sexual images, which provides useful information for the development of public health education programs and directions for future research.

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