Support seeking in early and middle adolescent girls: an exploratory study of online support seeking and mental health
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 18:15 authored by Erin Mackenzie
Many adolescents interact with their friends online, and report gaining social support through online communication. While research has focused on adolescents’ use of formal online support, less is known about adolescent girls’ use of informal online support. This study aimed to investigate the use of informal online support seeking, and assess the relationship between online support seeking and adolescent mental health. The study assessed adolescents’ motivation for and beliefs about seeking support online, with the aim of identifying developmental affordances or limitations of this form of support seeking. Early and middle adolescent girls (N = 186) completed a self-report survey measuring their intended use of support seeking from parents, friends, peers, and online, as well as isolation in response to academic and social stressor vignettes. Mental health was assessed with a measure of depression, anxiety, and stress. Semi-structured interviews (n = 31) addressed motivation and beliefs about online support seeking. In-person support seeking from parents and friends was the most preferred form of support. Online support was more likely to be used by middle adolescents and more likely for academic stressors rather than social stressors. Girls who sought less support from parents and more support from friends reported seeking more support online. Seeking support online for both academic and social stressors was significantly related to higher levels of depression and anxiety. The use of isolation moderated the relationship between online support seeking and anxiety in response to academic stressors. Interviews revealed that most girls used online support seeking to access emotional and academic support from their friends. Girls identified potential developmental limitations to the use of online support seeking, such as using online support seeking to avoid emotion. This study provides an important contribution to our understanding of the use of online support seeking by adolescent girls.