Examining Adolescent Sexting, Sexual Behaviour, and Mental Health Using Variable-Centered and Person-Centered Analyses

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Introduction: Much of the research on adolescent sexting has been dedicated to understanding associated risks, such as mental health problems, substance use, and risky sexual behaviours. However, the literature has yielded inconsistent findings. Moreover, results have largely been based on variable-centered analytical approaches, which do not capture individual differences in sexting behaviours. Objectives: 1) Consolidate results examining sexting and associated risks via a meta-analysis in order to clarify inconsistent findings; 2) Use a person-centered analysis to assess heterogeneous subgroups of youth that display differential engagement in sexting and sexual behaviours. Methods: The current thesis is presented in two parts. Study 1 used a meta-analysis to synthesize results from 23 studies and 41,723 participants (52.1% female; Mage = 14.9). It examined associations between sexting and variables related to sexual behaviour and mental health. Sex, age, publication date, and study quality were examined as moderators. Study 2 used a latent class analysis with data from a sample of 894 youth (55.8% female; Mage = 17.04), from a longitudinal study based in southeast Texas. Classes were identified through participants’ patterns of responses to sexting and sexual behaviour indicator variables. Sex and ethnicity were analyzed as predictors, and depressive symptoms as an outcome, of class membership. Results: Study 1: The meta-analysis found significant associations between sexting and sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, lack of contraception use, delinquent behaviour, symptoms of anxiety/depression, and substance use. Moderator analyses revealed that associations were stronger among younger adolescents. Study 2: The latent class analysis revealed four distinct classes: No sexting-Low sex (42.2%), Sexting-Low sex (4.5%), No sexting-moderately risky sex (28.3%), and Sexting-Moderately risky sex (24.9%). Females and youth identifying as an ethnic minority were less likely to be in groups characterized by higher rates of sexting. Group membership predicted depressive symptoms. Conclusions: Through the use of both variable-centered (meta-analysis) and person-centred analyses (latent class analysis), the current thesis clarifies results pertaining to sexting and correlated risks, and lends nuance to broad correlational findings through the examination of individual differences. Taken together, results can be used to inform initiatives aimed at educating youth, parents, and teachers about adolescent sexting.
adolescence, sexting, mental health, latent class analysis, meta-analysis
Mori, C. M. (2020). Examining Adolescent Sexting, Sexual Behaviour, and Mental Health Using Variable-Centered and Person-Centered Analyses (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from https://prism.ucalgary.ca.