An Australian researcher has been designing an app aimed at 10- to 15-year-old boys, to help them create healthy relationships with their peers.
The app will help boys talk to girls, and will give teens insight and advice about helping their friends and maintaining respectful relationships; but it also has an important undertone - putting a stop to domestic violence.
Studies have shown that many ideas and behaviours relating to domestic violence begin in teenage years, and the idea behind the app is to stop them before they form. The concept is still in its early stages, but the idea is to use gamification and social marketing to change teens’ attitudes about domestic violence before they enter into long-term relationships as adults.
The app is being developed by Rebekah Russell-Bennet, a social marketing expert at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), along with Australian non-profit organisation YFS.
"The National Survey of Youth Attitudes reported very disturbing findings about young men’s attitudes and behaviours," said YSF CEO, Cath Bartolo.
"Evidence shows that boys and young men are not clear on where to draw the line on what constitutes respect in relationships and what crosses the line in to harm. For example, many do not get that coercing a girl into sex is rape."
The app doesn’t use the words "domestic violence", and doesn’t make it this priority obvious to the user - as this would obviously turn young teenagers away.
"Instead the app focuses on what they do want to know: about how to talk to girls, dating, having respectful relationships and supporting their friends, in order to promote health relationships among young people and positive male attitudes," said Russell-Bennett.
"Making these positive behaviours normal is key for this group because social connections and belongingness are high priorities for them."
The next step is making the app fun, which is something that Russell-Bennett says the format works for.
"Gaming apps have unique features such as ‘achievement’, ‘badges’, and ‘point features’ which help motivate and excite users to encourage new behaviours," she said.
"Ten to 15 year olds have a preference for online and mobile rather than face-to-face communication and most of them have a phone. We want to take this concept and develop a game-oriented app to stimulate positive levels of self-efficacy and strong social bonds."
Despite being an interesting step forward, the app, or any other anti-violence measure, is not a complete solution, Russell-Bennett admits. But by changing values and educating teenagers, it will hopefully create change in the future.
"This app cannot address the full problem but it can be an intervention that could change behaviour by giving young boys an opportunity to set up respectful relationships early in their lives that carry through into their long-term relationships," she said.
The next stage is to secure funding to develop and test the app.
We’re looking forward to seeing the results.