Text Messaging as a Forum for Negative and Antisocial Communication

Text Messaging as a Forum for Negative and Antisocial Communication

Samuel E. Ehrenreich (The University of Texas – Dallas, USA), Joanna K. Gentsch (The University of Texas – Dallas, USA), Lisa H. Rosen (Texas Women's University - Denton, USA) and Marion K. Underwood (The University of Texas – Dallas, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8239-9.ch082


Text message communication has become an increasingly popular form of peer interaction among adolescents (Lenhart, 2012). In addition to providing a constant source of access to adolescents' peer network, text messaging also provides a method of peer interaction that is cheap and convenient (Ling, 2005), and generally devoid of parental monitoring (Davie, Panting & Charlton, 2004). These features of text messaging may make it an ideal environment for exchanging communication about antisocial and delinquent topics. This chapter reviews current research investigating how adolescents use text messaging to communicate about negative and antisocial topics. Specifically, the discussion examines the extent to which youth engage in negative and antisocial communication via text messaging and how this communication may reinforce these behaviors through the phenomenon of deviancy training (complimenting and encouraging antisocial activities and providing instruction for how to engage in them; Dishion, Spracklen, Andrews & Patterson, 1996). The extent to which parents monitor communication exchanged via text messaging, and the protective effect this monitoring is also discussed. This article concludes with suggestions for future research directions.
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Mobile phone use has become an increasingly important form of communication and social interaction, especially among adolescents and young adults (Lenhart, 2012; Madden et al., 2013). Electronic communication such as messages exchanged via mobile phones may be associated with a variety of positive social and psychological outcomes, and may be particularly useful for individuals who are otherwise anxious or uncomfortable with face-to-face communication (McKenna, Green & Gleason, 2002). Despite these benefits of mobile phone use, there is a growing body of research that suggests that features of communication exchanged via mobile phones may in fact be conducive to discussing antisocial and negative topics (Ehrenreich, Underwood & Ackerman, 2014; Ling, 2005a). Furthermore, these problematic conversation topics may in fact predict increases in antisocial and delinquent behavior during adolescence and young adulthood.

This chapter will review the research of leading scholars in digital communication and antisocial behavior to examine how adolescents may use mobile phone technology to discuss antisocial and negative topics, and how this may relate to their psychosocial adjustment. Given that the majority of research examining antisocial communication has been conducted on adolescent and young adult samples, the studies discussed in this chapter will focus on this age range. Finally, this chapter will present some important future directions for research to expand our understanding of how mobile phone technology relates to involvement in antisocial activities.

Although examination of the role of mobile telephones in adolescents’ development (and more specifically the development of antisocial behavior) is relatively new, the pioneering scholars in this field include Dr. Fraser Reid at the University of Plymouth (Reid, Ball, Morley & Evans, 1997; Reid & Reid, 2007) and Dr. Susan McKay at the University of Queensland (McKay, 2003; Thurlow & McKay, 2003). These scholars were among the first researchers to explore adolescents’ discussion of negative and antisocial topics via digital communication and mobile telephony. Currently the leading scholars in the field include Dr. Richard Ling at the University of Copenhagen (Ling, 2004a; Ling 2005a), as well as Drs. Patricia Greenfield and Kaveri Subrahmanyam at the University of California-Los Angeles (Subrahmanyam, Smahel & Greenfield, 2006; Tynes, Reynolds & Greenfield, 2004). Additionally, Ms. Amanda Lenhart at the Pew Research Center (Lenhart, 2012; Madden et al., 2013) and Drs. Samuel Ehrenreich and Marion Underwood at The University of Texas at Dallas (Ehrenreich et al., 2014) are advancing this field by examining adolescents’ rapidly changing mobile phone behaviors and using innovative techniques to better understand how mobile phone use relates to psychosocial development.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Observational Methodology: A method of research that examines individuals’ behavior by directly viewing the behavior in question.

Parental Monitoring: Parents attempts to supervise and understand what activities their child is engaging in and with whom. This can include direct observation of the child’s behavior, as well as communicating with their child keep track of their behavior and whereabouts.

Deviancy Training: A process in which peers’ communication about antisocial topics provides encouragement and instruction for how to engage in antisocial behaviors, which in turn promotes these behaviors as normative within the peer group.

Text Messaging: Short textual messages (generally less than 121 characters) sent and received via cell phones.

Antisocial Behavior: Behavior that that violates either legal standards (e.g. consuming illicit drugs) or socially regulated standards (e.g. speaking disrespectfully towards a teaching).

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