In the olden days, teens and young adults who wanted accurate information about contraception or sexually transmitted diseases would perhaps find a trusted adult or sneak a book or perhaps rely on information (misinformation?) from peers.
Not so much any more. Mobile apps and websites provide a range of options, and YTH.org (that’s for youth, tech, health) is the focal point.
Its mission: To advance youth health and wellness through technology.
YTH Live kicked off Sunday in San Francisco and runs through tomorrow. The conference convenes everyone from public health professionals to youth advocates to social entrepreneurs. KQED’s Stephanie Martin talked with YTH.org executive director Deb Levine about the conference.
Here’s their conversation, lightly edited:
STEPHANIE MARTIN: On the Frequently Asked Questions section of YTH’s website, one of the questions that struck me was: “Is this conference for real?” What about this conference would prompt people to ask a question like that?
DEB LEVINE: Our conference is the only one of its kind, not only in the United States but globally. People really can’t believe that there’s a conference around youth, sex and technology. Back in the early 90s I started the first question-and-answer service around health for college students called Go Ask Alice, and 75 percent of questions on that website were about sexual health, relationships, sexual identity, reproductive health, STDs and so on. That was when we realized — almost 20 years ago — that the power of the small screen really does enable young people to ask those burning questions around their bodies and their own lives.
MARTIN: What kind of apps and other services are available to teens right now?
LEVINE: People are putting together incredible videos, teen citizen journalists, who have made videos about their own communities that you can watch on your phone. For text messaging, we have Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York, they have a text messaging question and answer service, so you ask a question and you get an answer form a medical provider. (Editor’s note: the service, called Text in the City, appears to be in a trial phase, exclusively for teens attending the Mt. Sinai Center.)
MARTIN: Your conference addresses the popularity of texting among young people. How can that be leveraged to help them locate information and resources related to their sexual health?
LEVINE: For example, at the conference, we have mobilecommons as a representative of DoSomething.Org. DoSomething is setting up a crisis text line where young people can text any kind of question, fear or crisis that they’re going through — right at that moment — and it’s 24/7. They get texts back with conversation with a real person and the ability to connect to youth friendly services.
MARTIN: How are tech developers addressing the concerns of parents, many of whom argue that if their child is under 18 — they should be in the loop?
LEVINE: I love that question! As a parent of a tween, I’m concerned too. This is what I say to all parents: you need to know what your kids are doing online. If they download an app, then you should go and check that app on their phone. Nothing is meant to be kept from parents, but ideally this technology will help start a conversation between parents and teens about these difficult subjects.