New report reveals young people’s ‘hybrid lives’

Ollie Drackford
Head of Marcoms

The internet plays a vital role in the lives of UK youth – 75% of young people feel they couldn’t live without it.

Young people have evolved to communicate in more advanced ways than older generations, living ‘hybrid lives’ where the internet plays a critical role, says a new report launched at the House of Commons today (October 14, 2009).

The report Life Support: Young people’s needs in a digital age looks at how digital communications have impacted on the psychological and neurological behaviour of young people – and the challenge this poses for agencies and organisations who aim to support them.

Undertaken by Professor Michael Hulme of the Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University, and commissioned by charity YouthNet, the report draws together literature and new research conducted with 994 young people aged 16 to 24 (funded by Nominet Trust). It found that of the young people surveyed:

  • 75% said that they couldn’t live without the internet
  • 45% said that they felt happiest when online
  • 32% agreed with the statement: ‘I can access all the information I need online, there is no need to speak to a real person about my problems’
  • Four in five (82%) said they had used the internet to look for advice and information for themselves and 60% had for other people
  • 37% said that they would use the internet to give advice to others on sensitive issues.

Government Advisor on Children and Technology, Professor Tanya Byron, welcomed the report, saying: “This research illustrates the vital role the internet plays in the lives of young people. Far more than just a way to keep in touch – it, and its online population, have become a confidant for young people facing difficult, stressful or confusing times.

The ease of access to opinion, support and advice is of course appealing to a generation who have grown up with immediacy, but it’s essential the adults and organisations that provide support to this age group recognise this, and offer services that are easily accessible through the internet.”

Who are the Digital Natives?

Digital Natives are under the age of 25, and have been surrounded by computers, the internet, mobile phones and digital video games since a pre-school age.

According to the report, they are fundamentally different to previous generations, living ‘hybrid lives’, communicating and networking in a more advanced way than their parents and grandparents, and have ‘highly developed visual-spatial skills’ .

It also describes them as the ‘ever on’ group, demanding immediate access to information and friends. Of those surveyed, 76% said that the internet ensured their friends are available ‘whenever they need them’.

They are internet savvy and risk aware

Over three quarters (76%) of young people surveyed thought the internet was a safe place ‘as long as you know what you’re doing’, and most believed that they were internet-literate and technologically aware, with the skills to sense check and look into the possibility of misrepresentation .

However, the report highlights the need for more guidance and support for the vulnerable ‘in-between group’ of 16 and 17-year-olds, who may be particularly at risk of over confidence as they feel under pressure to take on the responsibilities of adulthood .

They seek help in a virtual world

According to the report, the internet does, and will increasingly, play a vital role in the full process of advice gathering and exploration for young people . In the survey responses, the internet is consistently rated alongside family and friends as a source of advice in stressful situations. For support on issues related to sex and drugs, it took precedence over all other forms of advice .

Anonymity was the single most important reason for 62% of young people seeking advice online rather than from other sources, while ease and speed of access to information were also cited by 56% and 53% of respondents respectively.

Professor Hulme concludes his report by saying: “For young people, the internet is part of the fabric of their world and does not exist in isolation from the physical world, rather it operates as a fully integrated element.

In the future as access becomes ever more mobile, multi-platform, faster and with richer media – in other words ever on and everywhere – the need and demand for advice through the internet will become even more critical.”

The report was commissioned by online charity YouthNet, and supported by Nominet Trust, to help guide the future development of its online support service for 16 to 24-year-olds,

YouthNet Chief Executive, Fiona Dawe, said: “This timely report is an essential read for any youth policy maker, parent or teacher. The incredible speed in which communication methods are changing means that young people are trailblazing new ways to converse that many of my generation struggle to understand.

With the huge number of unregulated and unmoderated websites, blogs, networks and groups that exist online, the need for a safe, trusted place has never been greater, which is why YouthNet will be taking the insights of this report to heart as we plan the future of our services.”

Since 1995, has provided help, advice and information to young people at some of the most critical points in their lives. YouthNet, the charity behind the service, today launches the LifeSupport Appeal, to raise the funds to redevelop and revolutionise online support for young people.

Jonathan Welfare, Chairman of Nominet Trust’s Board, said: “This is an extremely valuable piece of research as it provides deep insight into how today’s younger generation acts and interacts online.

It will undoubtedly lead to better understanding and ultimately better advice and support for today’s and tomorrow’s internet-enabled youth, which is why Nominet Trust is delighted to have been able to support this project and help YouthNet have a positive impact on young people’s lives.”

Notes to editors

YouthNet is an online charity – founded by broadcaster Martyn Lewis in 1995 – which aims to engage, inform and inspire young people. It does this through two award winning websites:, the guide to life for 16 to 24 year-olds and Do-it (, the central place online for volunteering

The Life Support: Young people’s needs in a digital age report is being launched at the House of Commons at 9.15am on October 14

The launch event at the House of Commons and the quantitative research with young people was funded by the Nominet Trust

Professor Michael Hulme undertook the research at no cost to YouthNet

The LifeSupport Appeal is a three-year, £5 million appeal to raise vital funds to completely redevelop and revolutionise online support for young people and is being launched at London’s Living Room at 6.30pm on October 14

Michael Hulme is Hon Professor and Associate Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Lancaster University where he is a member of the Lancaster University Development Board. He holds an MPhil in Critical Management also from Lancaster. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Member of the Market Research Society. Michael is Director of the Social Futures Observatory, an independent ‘Think Tank’ closely allied to the Institute of Advanced Studies that seeks to understand societal change both today and in to the future. The Social Futures Observatory is also responsible for undertaking the annual technology and media behavioural study, Digital Lives Research Programme

The quantitative research was conducted by The Futures Company on behalf of YouthNet. The total sample size was 994 young people aged between 16 and 24. The fieldwork was conducted online by Lightspeed Research between October 10 and July 27 2009. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK young people (aged 16-24)

Nominet Trust is a charity that provides funds for innovative projects, which strive to improve and encourage the development of a safe, educational and inclusive internet. The Trust provides grants to organisations that can demonstrate vision and execution for internet-related projects that make a tangible difference in developing a safe, educational and inclusive internet in the UK and other countries. Initial funding comes from Nominet, the internet registry for .uk domains, one of the world’s largest domain name registries.


i Life Support: Young People’s Needs in a Digital Age, Page 10.

ii The Survey found 77% of those surveyed agreed that: ‘On the internet you can never know if someone is who they say they are’ and 71% said that they ‘do their own research to see whether the advice they have been given is correct’. 43% stated that they have known someone who has been a victim of an online scam.

iii Life Support: Young People’s Needs in a Digital Age, Page 22.

iv 49%, 41% and 41% of respondents said they would turn to the internet for information or advice about health, sex and finance respectively.

v When asked where they would turn first for information and advice about very sensitive issues related to drugs, the internet was mentioned by the largest proportion of respondents (16% compared with 13% mentioning ‘friends’).



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Published on 19-Oct-2009