Digital support seeking in adolescent girls: A qualitative study of affordances and limitations

Abstract

While digital communication is almost universal amongst adolescents, we do not yet know why adolescent girls seek support electronically or how they perceive this support. The prevalence of adolescent girls’ informal digital support seeking was determined by a self-report questionnaire with 186 early and middle adolescent girls (Mage = 13.64 years), drawn from four socioeconomically advantaged schools in Australia. Digital support seeking from friends was extremely common, with 73.66% seeking emotional support and 85.48% seeking academic support. Next, to determine perceptions of digital support seeking, we conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with a representative subsample of 31 girls (Mage = 13.95 years). Interview data was analysed using inductive thematic analysis. Themes of friendship and emotional self-regulation emerged as perceived benefits. Girls perceived digital support to be poorer in quality than face-to-face support, and were particularly concerned about limitations to privacy and the disclosure of confidential information. Several maladaptive behaviours such as using digital support seeking to conceal or avoid emotion were identified. There was variation in the attitudes of the sample, and four groups of girls with distinct attitudes towards digital emotional support seeking were identified. Implications for supporting adolescents to effectively seek support electronically and face-to-face are discussed.

Bibliographic citation

Mackenzie, E., McMaugh, A., & Van Bergen, P. (2020). Digital support seeking in adolescent girls: A qualitative study of affordances and limitations. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 14(3), Article 5. doi:https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2020-3-5

Keywords

Digital support seeking; adolescent girls; support seeking; coping; friendship; trust; emotion regulation

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