Adolescents research about relationships among their peers

Research about children and young people is more likely conducted on them rather than by them.

We wondered: what might happen to our perceptions of children and young people if they were given the tools to be able to conduct meaningful research by themselves? Will they have different kinds of questions, needs and priorities ultimately leading to a type of research which describes their world and experiences more accurately?

We bet that it is possible to get a better understanding of teens’ view on topics like love, sex and friendship if the researcher is one of them. And this is the founding principle of the project Research into Adolescents perceptions of healthy relationships.

Almost 12 months into the project and our peer researchers have collected data from over 1700 participants in two countries: Tanzania and Bulgaria. The questions range from friendships on social media, relationships with family members, homosexuality and perceptions of violence in relationships.

In rural and urban regions in Bulgaria 32 young peer researchers adolescents have been trained and are being now supervised in research methodology, with the help of our local partner Animus, the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, and thanks to financial support of the OAK Foundation. The training and supervision involved every aspect of research, from design to data collection.

Meet two of these amazing Bulgarian Young Peer Researchers:

Eva leads a busy life. Aside from volunteering as a peer researcher, Eva spends her free time volunteering for the Red Cross and practicing sport. Eva loves to write and aspires to become a writer herself. She says that it’s her curiosity about people and relationships that inspired her to become a Young Peer Researcher. “I am interested in the kinds of relationships my friends are having and what people of my age think about when it comes to sex and relationships” Eva reflects, after a session about ethics in research.

15 years old Anna, who aspires to be an engineer, says that she became interested in the project “because as adolescents we are still searching for our true selves”. Anna thought the most challenging part of the project has been designing the questions. “We didn’t know it would take so much work. Learning how design the questions in a way to get the information we need, has been more difficult than I expected”.

This is what our colleague Steve Smith wrote about his experience visiting the project in Bulgaria some weeks ago: “Teen-led research is based on the belief that young people are essential co-creators of knowledge. Spending some days with these young researchers taught me that this is true. It appears that participatory research is ideal for the study of relationships between teenagers because young people are much more likely to talk to people their own age about sensitive topics, such as relationships and sexuality”.

In the first round of data collection, the information collected shows some interesting results already. It appears that these adolescents:

  • have a very positive view of their families and, in general, quite healthy relationships with their parents;
  • the majority of them still prefers face-to-face communication to social media;
  • 20% declares to be sexually active and to feel comfortable enough to discuss intimacy with their parents;
  • the majority witnesses sometimes violence at school but, in general, they seem to witness little violence.

The research team is now preparing the next phase of data collection to explore some of the key findings of the first round in more detail. The final report will be finalised in the summer, and we can’t wait to read about the results!