Internet Important to 'Marginalised' Youth - New Study
11 February 2008 at 2:54 pm
The internet and mobile phones play a much greater role than expected in the lives of young people who are socially, culturally or economically marginalised according to new research by the Inspire Foundation and ORYGEN Youth Health.
And the research challenges the concept of the ‘digital divide’ which suggests that marginalised young people’s use of technology is limited.
Researchers found that young people who are marginalised and at risk of developing mental health difficulties use the internet as a tool to express themselves, channel energy into their social networking profiles or chat to others online.
Some participants who felt they had few friends in the face-to-face world, said they use the Internet to make new friends, which built their confidence and self-esteem.
The research involved focus groups with young people and in-depth interviews with service providers, across Victoria. It explored how young people from a diverse range of backgrounds use ICT such as the Internet, and how this can impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Most young people who participated in the study have access to the internet, with over half accessing it at least a few times a week. Almost half of those who had access to the internet used a broadband connection.
Overall, the young people involved in the study felt that their ICT skills were of a high standard, indicating that they could perform specific tasks ‘really well.’ Many have access to an email account, although some struggled to maintain these as they had difficulty remembering passwords.
They reported that their favourite websites included search engines, social networking websites and Wikipedia, indicating that ICT plays a role in young people communicating with others as well as seeking to understand the world around them.
This research suggests that ICT does play a role in young people’s identity formation. For many, mobile phones, email, instant messaging and social networking websites mediate their contact with the world and those who live in it, and have an impact on how they see themselves.
Some young people reported that the internet provided another avenue for gossip to spread, and spoke of the impact this had on how they felt about themselves.
Young people who are same-sex attracted or questioning their sexuality, experiencing social isolation and/or mental health difficulties will often use web-based resources to find out about the experiences of others Young people may also use the internet to mediate the world around them, with some using the internet as an outlet to express themselves, channelling energy into their social networking websites or chatting to others online.
Others, feeling like they have few friends in the face to face environment, use the internet to meet new friends or partners, building their confidence and self esteem.
For young people with disabilities, the internet was an important resource as they sought to understand their disability better.
ICT also plays an important role in facilitating young people’s social relationships.
Young people use text messaging, online instant messaging, email and social networking sites to maintain relationships with friends, as well as significant adults.
The study found cultural differences in the social networking sites that young people used to communicate with others, perhaps signalling that there may be other cultural differences in the ways that young people use ICT.
This has particular implications for utilising these sites as a tool in youth service delivery. For example, in designing an ICT based program for Indigenous young people, it would be advantageous to utilise Bebo, rather than other social networking sites.
Focus group participants displayed sophisticated understandings of the risks of online interaction. Many had developed their own strategies for staying safe online, including not disclosing personal information and ensuring that if they planned to meet someone face to face that they had previously met online, that they took a friend with them and let people know where they were going.
The research was carried out by Michelle Blanchard, Atari Metcalf and Jane Burns for the Inspire Foundation and ORYGEN Youth Health.
The report can be downloaded at: http://www.inspire.org.au/uploads/files/pdfs/BDDReport_1_December2007.pdf