LUF grant for Neeltje Blankenstein: 'I want to study online risk behaviour of young people in its full depth'
Neeltje Blankenstein receives an LUF grant to conduct research on online risk behaviour among young people. What risks do young people take online and why? 'With this research, we not only want to help prevent serious risk behaviour, but also understand what drives young people to it.'
A few short weeks ago, Blankenstein was teaching a workgroup when a highly-anticipated email appeared in her inbox. Receiving €35,000 euros from the Leiden University Fund for her new research, she was overjoyed. 'This grant is intended to give young researchers an impulse for future, larger grant applications. I can lay a foundation for follow-up research by mapping what we actually measure when we talk about adolescent online risk behaviour.'
Adolescent risk behaviour in the physical, offline world has been eagerly studied by psychologists for years, including by Blankenstein herself. It's a well known object of study, partly because this behaviour is more visible than online behaviour. 'Young people dye their hair a crazy colour, sometimes drink too much alcohol or ask someone out, which is also a risk, because the other person might not like you. But risky behaviour can also take more serious forms such as excessive drug use or unsafe sex. We now have questionnaires that measure how often young people show that kind of behaviour, and why. I want to develop exactly such a tool for the online world with this new research.'
Taking young people around the drawing board
To compile that questionnaire, Blankenstein will go around the drawing board with adolescents themselves. And that is no excessive luxury. 'I grew up with a Nokia 3330, one of those things you can play Snake with,' she laughs. 'The current generation of young people is much more comfortable with today's online world, and knows what the online challenges and apps of the moment are.'
For her research, Blankenstein drew up different domains of online risk behaviour: social (posting an embarrassing photo of a friend), financial (online gambling), or delinquent behaviour (WhatsApp fraud). 'But maybe young people come up with whole other domains that I haven't thought of yet. I have my scientific background, they have their own lived experience; if you bring those together, we will develop a better tool.'
The project will take three years, during which Blankenstein will hold focus groups, collect data, write articles and develop the questionnaire. 'I want to start testing the tool in schools and, once the data is analysed, will also inform them' Young people also benefit if their behaviour is better understood. 'Maybe it turns out that they don't take as many risks as we often think, or that they take those risks in a healthy way. That would be great, then we could put our view of social media in a new perspective.'
She strives for a nuanced, complete picture of the online world, with all the dangers as well as the fun young people experience in it. 'You have to discover yourself as an adolescent, just as much online. There are dangerous TikTok-challenges going around, but also fun, innocent challenges. I want to investigate risk behaviour in its full depth.'