To further understand the youth experience online, SCE partnered with Chicago Ideas to conduct youth listening sessions, with a particular emphasis on how youth view their “rights and responsibilities.” To support these youth-centered conversations, Chicago Ideas created a Youth Focus Group Facilitation Guide based on real world, ethical dilemmas that youth face online. Below are some key takeaways from these focus groups.
Teens understand the potential to help (and hurt) others online
Teens are using social media to navigate and understand a range of complex issues, including identity. Hearing others’ stories, questions and concerns can give teens the courage to speak up and offer helpful advice. They understand that while social media can be good, it can also be harmful if not used well.
“I am a role model for some people … understanding what they’re going through helps me shift my mindset.”
Teens express concern about how their peers behave online, particularly when they unthinkingly spread negativity or hurt others. Disrespectful, uncaring behavior online frustrates teens. They witness significant amounts of bullying, offending others, reposting negative videos, or posting sexually inappropriate content. Too often, teens get teased or bullied based on their posts.
“Tell someone. Stick up for that person, uplift them. They may not have a voice.”
Teens are cautious about online connections and engagement
Teens are cautious about making friends online, and witness and/or experience a range of inappropriate contact online by their peers and others. They think their peers need to be more cautious and they would appreciate more designated “safe” spaces. While teens like to connect with others via social media, they consider them “associates,” not friends. They are sometimes approached by older men or women and must block them.
Teens are somewhat hesitant to use technology to get involved in their community at times. They would appreciate additional support/incentives from adults to do so.
“Sometimes there are fake pages, and if you don’t know those people, something could happen to you … you have to be smart about who they are and what they might want from you.”
“People want to hide and say a bunch of stuff online instead of just being themselves.”
Teens are concerned about both safety and freedom
Teens feel a lot of pressure around their online profiles. They work hard to express themselves authentically and want to be able to represent themselves as they see fit. They try not to appear too concerned with what others think, but feel if they don’t look good for others they will be at risk of others making memes out of them.
Teens take steps to keep their profiles private so as not to negatively affect college applications or other opportunities as well as to limit unwanted requests for connection.
Teens suggest forums could be created as “safe spaces” to communicate where no bullying or negativity would be allowed. These spaces could offer great value for people with anxiety and depression, for instance.
Teens care deeply about a wide range of social justice and community issues, including:
Police brutality/Black Lives Matter
Inequality in public policies (ex: immigration)
Suicide & Mental Health
Financial Aid/Financial well-being
Teens use a wide range of social media and news sources to better understand and communicate with others about these issues. These sources range from network news stations and NRP to SnapChat and Facebook.
Teens are curious and active online learners
Technology gives teens access to subjects and skill areas they aren’t learning in school. By watching YouTube videos for both how-to and inspiration, teens are able to pursue areas they are passionate about (ex: drawing, developing new artistic techniques, writing music and getting inspiration for different types of music).
Teens believe in their own potential to create change and do good
Teens view their own projects and activities as part of taking action. Though most teens we spoke to did not identify “taking action” as their primary activity online, discussion revealed that they do see connections other time spent online. These include planning events and managing their own personal brand.
Teens experience adults as somewhat hypocritical when it comes to technology. Adults criticize teens’ use of smartphones while they themselves continue to use their own – sometimes posting questionable content. Adults also assume teens are only spending their time online negatively, when the opposite is true (ex: networking, researching, finding internships).
Teens are somewhat hesitant to use technology to get involved in their community at times. They would appreciate additional support/incentives from adults to do so more often.
Teens said they mostly try to stay away from perceived negative elements/problems in their neighborhoods. They also expressed that if they could be given specific support from adults, this would help them do an even better job.
Teens worry that adults’ perceptions are often negative and that they too often question teens’ actions and motives instead of supporting and enabling their actual good efforts.