Young Adults Assess Their Social Networks and Connections to Resources
A recently released study provides insights into young adults’ views on their social networks and analyzes ways young people connect to financial, mentoring and other resources critical to their healthy development. Visible Network Labs, which published the exploratory report, has been hosting a social support research fellowship funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, working with four young adults to better understand the role of “social connectedness” — their relationships with others — in influencing outcomes for young people.
The fellows and Visible Network Labs collaborated to develop the research questions, recruit 28 young adult participants ages 16 to 24 from diverse backgrounds across the United States, conduct interviews and analyze the data. The study sought answers to four questions:
- How do young adults think about and describe social connectedness?
- How does social connectedness differ for different groups of young people compared with older generations?
- How do those differences affect how young adults access resources?
- And how does their access to resources match — or not match — the ways that youth want to connect with those resources?
Enhancing Quality, Advancing Equity
An example of an investment within the Casey Foundation’s Thrive by 25® focus, the study contributes to a better understanding of the personal social support networks of teens and young adults — a first step toward designing programs and interventions that strengthen these networks. To enhance the quality of research and advance equity, the Foundation is engaging youth as partners in identifying obstacles to reaching their full potential, as well as solutions to overcome these obstacles. Casey’s goal: to make sure all young people are equipped to thrive by the age of 25, with basic needs met, postsecondary education and credentials, financial stability, permanent connections to family and leadership skills.
Among the study’s findings:
- Nearly three-quarters of the young adult respondents go to their informal networks of family and friends when they need support.
- Only 25% of the interviewees between the ages of 16 and 18 thought their networks were meeting their needs.
- Seventy-one percent said they connect with others differently than older adults do.
- Compared to teenagers in high school, young adults over 18 were more likely to mention social media as a resource that older adults did not access.
- Almost half of the interviewees were open to talking about any topic with their social support networks.
- Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 were more likely to limit the topics they would talk about with their networks.
- Of the young adults interviewed, 52% had refused resources offered to them, either because they were not comfortable with the person or organization offering the resource or because it did not meet their needs.
- Female interviewees were twice as likely to report having “genuine/authentic” support compared with male interviewees.
Developing Useful, Accepted Resources
The study suggests that introverts and extroverts might have different needs when connecting with others. Those who identified themselves as introverts indicated a closer connection with in-person friends than extroverts, who were more likely to place a similar value on in-person connections and those fostered online. Moreover, interviewees who discussed receiving community support — from church gatherings, for example — were often extroverts, suggesting that they welcomed larger social gatherings more than introverts.
The information gathered in this study will help Visible Network Labs and the four fellows develop a survey tool that young adults can use to understand their current support network and connect them to valuable resources. The lack of such a tool has been an impediment to assessing the health of support networks for young adults and designing effective programs and interventions to strengthen them.
“Insights from this research enhance our understanding of the influence of social connectedness on youth well-being,” says Kimberly Spring, the Casey Foundation’s director of research and evaluation. “By creating authentic and meaningful relationships with adolescents and young adults, we can help ensure that resources offered to them are useful and accepted.”