Primary Sources: Can Participating in Online Forums Improve the Well-being of Teen Moms and Moms-to-be?
“Forging Friendships, Soliciting Support: A Mixed-Method Examination of Message Boards for Pregnant Teens and Teen Mothers" (abstract). Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 29 (September 2012).
What it's about: Researchers at the University of California wanted to know whether and how peer support promotes the overall well-being of pregnant and parenting teens. The researchers collected data from four online message boards, each with a different focus: teen pregnancy, teen issues in general, pregnancy, and health.
Why read it: Many young people go to virtual communities for advice and support. And pregnant and parenting teens may need and want a lot of both those things. This study helps family and youth workers understand how online forums might help pregnant and parenting teens get support that helps them and their babies to be well.
Biggest take aways for family and youth workers: This study's qualitative findings show that yes, pregnant and parenting teens experience improved well-being as a result of peer support. Specifically, youth message boards that are focused on a specific genre or topic and representative of a certain age group provide a sense of belonging and support youth may not be able to receive offline. Online message boards can widen youth's network of peers with similar experiences, and they can give youth a place to discuss personal concerns they may not feel comfortable talking about in person.
Researchers found that many youth who participated in the forum wanted to stay in touch with other members--keeping a permanent connection. The researchers also found that relationships formed in the forum helped the pregnant and parenting teens' overall wellbeing. Teens in the forums felt strongly connected to one another. When one young woman didn't post for a while, other members wondered where she was. When she returned, she posted this message: "I am sorry if I made you guys worry! I am here and still love you all!"
But the authors also caution that support-driven message boards have their drawbacks. If youth workers encourage youth to use online forums, they should also build in some monitoring or follow-up, the authors say, to make sure youth aren't getting incorrect medical advice or being cyber-bullied.
Additional Reference: For more information on helping youth use social media in a positive way, read "Research Roundup: Online Social Networks May Protect Homeless Youth From Negative Influences" and "Q&A: How to Help Youth Make Positive Use of Social Media."