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Adolescents’ Text Message Communication and Growth in Antisocial Behavior Across the First Year of High School

Abstract

This study examined whether adolescents communicate about antisocial topics and behaviors via text messaging and how adolescents’ antisocial text message communication relates to growth in rule-breaking and aggression as reported by youth, parents, and teachers. Participants (n = 172; 82 girls) received BlackBerry devices configured to capture all text messages sent and received. Four days of text messages during the 9th grade year were coded for discussion of antisocial activities. The majority of participants engaged in at least some antisocial text message communication. Text messaging about antisocial activities significantly predicted increases in parent, teacher, and self-reports of adolescents’ rule-breaking behavior, as well as teacher and self-reports of adolescents’ aggressive behavior. Text message communication may provide instrumental information about how to engage in antisocial behavior and reinforce these behaviors as normative within the peer group.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the support of grants from the National Institutes of Health (R01 MH63076, R01 HD060995, and K02 MH073616); the children and families who participated in this research; an outstanding local school system that wishes to be unnamed; and Joanna Gentsch for her leadership as our longtime Project Coordinator. This project would not have been possible without the creativity of a Sprint Solutions Engineer, and the contributions of our telecommunications partners: Sprint, AT&T, Ceryx, Research in Motion, and Global Relay.

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Correspondence to Marion K. Underwood.

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Ehrenreich, S.E., Underwood, M.K. & Ackerman, R.A. Adolescents’ Text Message Communication and Growth in Antisocial Behavior Across the First Year of High School. J Abnorm Child Psychol 42, 251–264 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-013-9783-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-013-9783-3

Keywords

  • Text messaging
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Deviancy training
  • Peer contagion