How young people use mobile phones to seek help

Ollie Drackford
Head of Marcoms

YouthNet has completed the first stage of a research project funded by the Nominet Trust that looks at how young people use mobile devices to meet their support needs. The research, involving more than 1,000 young people, consisted of online focus groups, an online survey, and offline workshops. The insights gathered will inform the next exciting stage of the project, where we will work with 16-to-25 year-olds as well as technological and youth experts to develop innovative and ambitious ideas on how to support young people through technology.

Below is just a taster of what the research revealed…

Today digital technologies are becoming increasingly ingrained in young people’s lives (with 99% of young people in the UK accessing the web), the internet is being accessed through an ever growing range of devices (i.e. 78% of young people access the web through mobile phones) and young people are increasingly going online for information and support on personal issues (with 83% of them turning to online resources when needing advice and support).

This raises the question of how less traditional, non-PC online platforms can be utilised to provide much-needed information, advice and support for young people.

The research identified areas where mobile devices could bring real benefits to young people in need by focusing on how young people use the device and the characteristics which are unique to mobile devices – beyond the evident benefits of convenience and practicality. These include: (1) connecting people; (2) providing local information; (3) instant support; (3) practical help; (5) engaging and fun support.

The research also identified areas which need to be taken into consideration when developing support services for mobile technologies aimed at young people.

–          Understanding help-seeking behaviour: whether the support is online or offline, through PC or mobile, young people’s needs should be put at the heart of service delivery. The research showed that (1) sometimes seeking help makes young people feel worse, by making it real – young people prefer to tackle the problem in a broader lifestyle context; (2) young people’s needs are often inter-related and cannot be addressed separately; (3) the way young people feel when coping with practical challenges in their lives is an issue in itself – emotional states can greatly influence help seeking behaviour.

–          How to support young people by connecting them through peers: even though young people mainly use mobile to connect to their peers, they struggle to recognise the role of peers in supporting them with personal issues. How can awareness of the role that peers can have in supporting them be raised, especially through mobile technologies?

–          Understanding privacy issues: privacy is a concern when using mobiles to seek help, but young people’s opinions and attitudes are varied: (1) there are young people who understand the risks of privacy and would not share information; (2) those who understand the risks of privacy and would selectively share information; (3) and those who don’t understand the risks of privacy and therefore would be at risk of sharing information unknowingly– services need to take into account the needs of these three different groups. Furthermore, there are different ways to define privacy and it is crucial to take the following into account: data-related privacy (whether data can be tracked by online companies) and personal privacy (whether other people can see the personal information accessed).

–          Information needs to be quick: young people usually spend less than 10 minutes on their mobile in one session and don’t like to search for information on the device. Services developed for mobiles need to be easy to navigate and the information has to be quick to locate.

–          Young people seamlessly and naturally switch devices: 81% of young people switch devices during the same internet session and they do it naturally. It is crucial for support services to be developed across neutral platforms.

–          Young people receiving online information from different places: services providing support – especially on sensitive issues – have to take into account the different situations young people are when accessing help.

Watch this space – next year we will develop and test innovative ideas to make real changes to young people’s lives through technology.


Published on 19-Dec-2012