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The Answer Blog

Archive for January, 2014

Teens and Social Media: More than Just Facebook

January 22, 2014

Have you heard the news about Facebook? Article after article say that Facebook has a problem—teen engagement is on the decline. Does this spell doom for the world’s largest social network?

Hardly. The official word is that millions of teens are still on Facebook, and the number of teens using the social network are holding steady.

Facebook is just one of many places where teens are online. As a sexual health professional you have spent time and resources on outreach and engaging your audience with status updates, photos and links. But teens aren’t just sticking with Facebook; they’re spreading their social media use across channels. So what’s a sexual health professional to do?

What’s Hot With Teens Right Now

Snapchat

Snapchat offers teens a simpler, more private social experience than Facebook. Users can send Snaps—privately shared photos and videos—which delete after a few seconds. The self-destruct timer leaves teens feeling less worried about leaving behind a digital footprint.

Instagram

Instagram’s popular photo sharing service got a big boost when it let users share video. Instagram Direct is a new feature that lets users privately share photos and videos with each other. It’s a clear response to Snapchat’s growing popularity, but unlike Snapchat’s self-destruct timer, messages shared on Instagram Direct have to be manually deleted.

Vine

Twitter launched Vine in 2013, and it shares its parent’s penchant for keeping things brief. Instead of 140 characters for a Tweet, Vine videos must be six seconds or less. Six seconds doesn’t seem like much, but it forces you to be concise and creative. There’s no end to the laughs and visual creativity on Vine.

Tumblr

Tumblr has grown into one of the largest blogging platforms, and it’s very popular with teens and young adults. It’s a treasure trove of photos, memes and other viral content. Users can reblog content and quickly add it to their own blog. You can customize almost everything about a blog’s theme, which makes Tumblr a great place for self-expression. And it offers anonymity—a huge draw for teens.

Messenger Apps

WhatsApp, Kik, Facebook Messenger and other messenger apps let teens communicate one on one or with a group of friends. Messenger apps let you share things like photos, videos, GIFs and stickers—most of what Facebook offers, but with more privacy. This is texting for the smartphone generation.

Sexual Health Professionals Must Adapt

Don’t panic about reports that teens are leaving Facebook. But don’t put all of your eggs in the Facebook basket. This is an opportunity to embrace change, adapt what you’ve done successfully on Facebook and diversify the platforms you use to engage teens. If you haven’t already, check out Snapchat, Vine and other apps that teens use to avoid mom and dad on Facebook. Follow some of your favorite sexual health organizations and brands, like Sex, Etc., and see how they’ve adapted.

I’ll be hosting Answer’s webinar on how to use smartphone apps like Snapchat, Vine and Tumblr to teach sexuality education. And I’ll be sharing best practices and examples of great work being done in the sexual health field. Whether you’re a school-based educator, community-based educator, clinician or other sexual health professional, you’ll walk away feeling more comfortable with new technology.

Register online and learn how you can use mobile apps to deepen teen engagement and make sexuality education more relevant and compelling to them.

—Alex Medina, Coordinator of Web Content and Social Networking

Four Things Adults Can Teach Young People About Communication in 2014

January 6, 2014

“But, how do I talk about this?”

A friend in her 20s recently asked me how, exactly, she was supposed to talk about specific sexual behaviors with someone she’d been seeing for a few months. My friend, who’s smart, driven and empowered in many aspects of her life, had no idea how to talk with her partner about what she wants, needs, likes and dislikes when it comes to sex. I wondered and worried if she couldn’t talk to him about these topics, could they discuss safer sex or birth control?

While Answer works to educate teens and adults who work with teens, I’m reminded by conversations like this that teens who do not receive honest, straightforward sexuality education aren’t likely to be able to talk with their partners about these topics. And without parents or other trusted adults teaching young people how to talk with their partners, they very quickly become 20-something young adults who aren’t able to have these conversations either. I sympathize with my friend, because no one taught her or her partner how to have these sorts of conversations. And if a successful, mature young adult like my friend doesn’t know how to talk with her partner, how do we expect teenagers—who arguably have less relationship experience—to know how?

As the expert on the Sexetc.org Forums who answers teens’ questions about sex, sexuality and sexual health, I encounter teens everyday who don’t know what good communication looks like. They ask how to tell their partner they want to use a condom or that they don’t feel ready to have sex. It’s our job as adults and educators to do a better job of counseling young people on how to have these important conversations with a partner.

I want to make the case for us—as educators, parents or people with a young person in our lives that we care about—to make the time in 2014 to talk with young people and teach them how to have healthy and respectful conversations about sex, sexual health and sexuality. Most young people will hopefully be getting the information they need about safer sex and birth control (and if not, send them on over to Sexetc.org!), but as adults who care about young people, we need to make sure they learn more than the steps to putting on a condom or the effectiveness rate of an IUD. They need to be able to talk about what they’ve learned so they can use it.

It can be hard even for us as adults to know what to say. So, here are four things we can teach young people when it comes to communicating with a partner:

  1. Make sure the conversation happens when you aren’t engaging in sexual behaviors. Having a conversation about sexual behaviors is usually easier when both partners are clothed and just hanging out together. People generally will feel less vulnerable, emotionally and physically, for what can sometimes be an awkward or difficult conversation.
  2. Use “I” statements. Statements that begin with “I think” or “I believe” let a partner know that you’re speaking for yourself and how you feel and that your conversation is about expressing your thoughts and communicating—not about accusing or attacking. Be sure that your language and thoughts are clear and that you’re telling your partner not only what you don’t want or aren’t ready for, but also what you do want and are ready for. It may help to think about this and formulate some thoughts before sitting down to talk.
  3. Find a solution together. Agreeing to work toward something as a team often brings couples closer together and can make the conversation feel less awkward.
  4. Practice. Like anything else, good communication isn’t something that everyone is automatically great at. Learning how to communicate effectively and in a way that each partner feels valued and respected can take some time. It gets easier!

We know young people want to learn how to communicate more effectively with a partner. We also know they look to trusted adults and educators to teach them how. Teaching young people how to communicate in a relationship in an honest and respectful way just may be the most useful tool you can offer them in 2014.

—Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, M.A., Coordinator of Education and Communications