South African Youth Experience Complex Psycho-Social Challenges with Limited Support
The YRU@BMR recently launched the YRU@BMR Youth Ambassador Research Program with the motto ‘’research by young people for young people’’. The goal of the program is to give young people between the ages of 13 to 20 years, the opportunity to inform and participate in research projects and ultimately create a better future for young South Africans.
As part of the program, a pilot study was conducted including a total of 309 young people, across South Africa investigating three of the most pertinent psycho-social challenges faced by the youth, including substance abuse, online sexual exploitation, and cyberbullying. This small-scale study investigated crucial components of the main study, which will be implemented by mid-March 2022.
The pilot study confirmed that tobacco, drug, and alcohol use among the youth remains widespread with most likely life-threatening consequences. Similar to previous YRU@BMR research studies investigating substance abuse, the pilot study identified high levels of stress as a significant factor contributing to substance abuse among young people in South Africa. Furthermore, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and more particular school closures, cannot be ignored, as illustrated in the following verbatim quote: ‘’Children were at home in the townships where drugs are easily available’’ (Respondent, YRU@BMR Pilot Study).
Young South Africans are increasingly spending more time online, which increases their vulnerability to online risks and amplifies the need for effective online protection. The pilot study confirmed that almost half the respondents (44.8%) have seen disturbing online images, which were mostly violent or sexual in nature. These images were mostly seen on social media platforms with notable psychological and behavioural outcomes. Concerningly, only 4.8% of respondents tried to get support after being exposed to sexually explicit material online, despite the impact on their emotions and behaviour.
The pilot study confirmed that cyberbullying is prevalent among South African youth and common forms of victimisation included false statements made about a person or threatening messages. Further investigation found that mostly peer pressure (83.8%), exposure to online violent content (40.5%), and family problems (32.4%) motivate cyberbullying. Victims of cyberbullying experience mixed feelings including anger (62.2%), sadness (45.9%), and frustration (45.9%). Similar to previous YRU@BMR research findings, victims of cyberbullying are less likely to report incidents and get the necessary support to deal with the incident and maybe try to deal with their own struggles. This often results in retaliation which keeps the abuse cycle going, with more severe consequences for both the victim and perpetrator.
The findings of the pilot study emphasise the importance of available online support platforms such as call centres and hotlines among young people. These platforms are easily accessible to most young South Africans and provide, immediate access to crises intervention and counselling for issues related to substance use and abuse, online sexual exploitation, and cyberbullying.
Click here to access the top-line report capturing the main findings and insights.
For more information about the YRU@BMR Youth Ambassador Research Program or to become a syndicate member of the program, contact Dr. A Basson at firstname.lastname@example.org