4/14/22, 9:43 PMCould I be pregnant? A study of online adolescent pregnancy forums for social support
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Research on adolescent parenthood has found one of the most critical predictors of offspring’swell-being is social support; however, scholars have also found that expectant adolescentssometimes experience a lack of support from their face-to-face networks. Very little research hasexamined how adolescent parents might make up for this discrepancy by utilizing mediatedsocial networks; therefore, this study aims to fill a gap in the literature by examining howadolescent parents and expectant adolescents utilize online networks for support. One hundredand fifty messages from two online forums of adolescent pregnancy Web sites were contentanalyzed to examine the type of social support solicited by individual members. Additionally,150 pairs of messages were examined to determine whether other community members providedthe type of support solicited in the original posts. Guided by the optimal matching model,findings revealed informational and emotional support were sought most frequently across thetwo forums, with few users soliciting esteem, network, and tangible support. A furtherexamination of the responses provided to support seekers revealed these online communities’members most frequently matched the type of support initially solicited, followed by situationswhere they provided more support than asked for. Out of all five support types, those originalposts that solicited informational or tangible support were most likely to have responses thatprovided the support type that was requested and even though posters did not necessarily ask forit, community members often provided emotional and esteem support in their responses.
4/14/22, 9:43 PMCould I be pregnant? A study of online adolescent pregnancy forums for social support
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Researchers have examined online social support exchange in various environments, includingdiscussion boards (Vayreda and Antaki, 2009) and social network sites such as Facebook (Schragand Schmidt-Tieszen, 2014). One of the most commonly studied areas of online social supportinvolves health-related forums. Researchers have examined the online social support exchangeprocess in forums dedicated to topics such as individuals with disabilities (Braithwaite, et al.,1999), Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS; Loane and D’Alessandro, 2013), and depression(Keating, 2013).
Although the aforementioned studies have helped to dispel some myths concerning the inabilityof online networks to provide effective support compared to face-to-face networks, somecontexts of online social support are still understudied. One of those contexts is adolescentpregnancy/parenting. Adolescent parents face a variety of stressors that make online socialsupport a viable option for them, such as a potential lack of support from their face-to-faceinterpersonal networks, particularly friendship networks (Bunting and McAuley, 2004; Shermanand Greenfield, 2013). It is especially important for scholars to better understand this contextbecause receiving social support is so integral to the success of adolescent parents and theirchildren (Kim, et al., 2014). More knowledge of the support options available to adolescentmothers and which of those options are the most effective in particular situations could helpmitigate negative outcomes associated with adolescent parenting.
In order to explore online social support exchange within the context of adolescentpregnancy/parenting, the current research utilized content analysis to investigate the following:(a) various types of support exchanged on adolescent pregnancy/parenting online forums; (b) therelationships between the type of support solicited and type of support provided by forum (oronline community) members; and, (c) whether the replies given by members matched the socialsupport solicited. This study contributes to previous research by addressing two gaps in theliterature. First, the population of expectant adolescents and adolescent parents has beenunderstudied in the social support literature, particularly in an online context. For example,Nolan, et al. (2017) did an extensive search of the literature to examine what previous scholarshad found concerning the use of online social networks by adolescent mothers. The authors onlyfound one study (i.e., Sherman and Greenfield, 2013) that examined the naturally occurring useof online networks by pregnant adolescents and/or adolescent parents. However, Sherman andGreenfield (2013) only examined posts made by forum users and did not consider how theresponses users received compared to their original posts. Therefore, this study extends Shermanand Greenfield’s initial research by examining the interactive process of social support exchangecommunication (not just how individuals seek support). Second, this study answers a call byVayreda and Antaki (2009) for more research that examines how the types of support provided inonline forums compare to the support users solicit.
The information provided by this study is significant because it allows scholars to betterunderstand the role online social networks play in the support exchange process of adolescentparents. Given the importance of social support to the success of adolescent parents and to theoutcomes of children of adolescent parents (Furstenberg and Hughes, 1995; Pinzon and Jones,2012), the more scholars understand about the support provided in online networks, the betterpractitioners will be able to help those adolescent parents who may lack support in their face-to-face networks.
4/14/22, 9:43 PMCould I be pregnant? A study of online adolescent pregnancy forums for social support
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Social support and adolescent pregnancy/motherhood
Social support, communicated via messages and actions that help people feel cared for, isparticularly important in the context of adolescent pregnancy/motherhood (Furstenberg andHughes, 1995). A social support network provides adolescent mothers with a system ofindividuals they can turn to in times of need, which has a variety of positive outcomes for theirphysical and mental health (Smith, et al., 1994). Although the number of children born toadolescent parents has declined in the past 30 years, adolescent parenting is still considered asocial problem in many regions of the United States (SmithBattle and Leonard, 2012). This islikely because research has suggested children born to adolescent parents tend to have poorer lifeexperiences than those with older parents. For example, previous research has linked adolescentparenting to poor behavioral, cognitive, and social outcomes for children (Clemmens, 2001;Kim, et al., 2014; Pinzon and Jones, 2012). Because of this research, scholars have continued tostudy what kind of life experiences might help to mitigate the negative outcomes children born toadolescent parents experience, and why some children have better outcomes than others. Manyof the factors they have discovered were associated with social support the mother received.
For instance, Pinzon and Jones (2012) found early childhood care, provided by the infant’sfamily of origin, and support that helped the adolescent finish school were related to morepositive outcomes for children of adolescent parents. Furthermore, Kim, et al. (2014) foundadolescent mothers who reported receiving more support were less likely to experiencepostpartum depression. Furstenberg and Hughes (1995) suggested support from one’s familymembers was associated with a higher likelihood of completing school, avoiding trouble, andhaving more positive life outcomes for the children of adolescent parents. This research suggestsfamilial social support plays a crucial role in the outcomes associated with adolescentparenthood.
Although support from one’s family should theoretically benefit the adolescent parent, empiricalresearch has provided mixed results. For example, Bunting and McAuley (2004) suggested whilesupport provided by family members could be beneficial for adolescent mothers, sometimes thissupport could also be a source of conflict. Adolescent parents are in a unique position in that theyplay the role of both child and parent. Because of this, there are times in which their own parentsmight provide social support that comes across as encroaching upon their independent-adultstatus (Bunting and McAuley, 2004). For example, longitudinal interview research revealed oneadolescent mother complained about social support from her mother, suggesting that hermother’s involvement hindered her growth as a parent (SmithBattle and Leonard, 2012).
Overall, research suggests the way social support is enacted plays an important role in theoutcomes of both children of adolescent parents and adolescent parents themselves. Since accessto helpful social support within the family unit seems to vary, it is possible those adolescentparents that do not receive much support from their family seek support elsewhere. Someresearch has suggested friendship networks might be better equipped to support adolescent
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parents in a positive way (Bunting and McAuley, 2004; Nolan, et al., 2015). However,adolescent mothers tend to feel disconnected from their peer groups once they have a child(Sherman and Greenfield, 2013). Therefore, given the mixed effects of support provided byfamily members and potential disconnection from one’s peers, one of the resources adolescentparents might turn to in order to develop a support network could be the Internet.
Why online social support?
Online support groups help people build weak-tie networks (Wright and Bell, 2003; Wright, etal., 2013). Granovetter (1973) claimed individuals have networks that consist of both strong andweak ties. Strong ties are individuals one has known for a long time, feels intimate with, and hasintense emotional connection or exchanges reciprocal amount of resources (Wright and Miller,2010). Weak ties constitute those with whom individuals are not necessarily close (Granovetter,1973), but may provide novel information and perspectives.
Individuals who experience difficult situations may choose weak-tie networks over strong-tienetworks because of the experiential similarity of community members, more objectivefeedback, and greater security and comfort (Wright and Miller, 2010; Wright, et al., 2010). Forexample, research suggests online support contexts make it possible for individuals to seeksupport from others who have gone through similar experiences (Tanis, 2008; Walther and Boyd,2002). Therefore weak-tie networks establish a platform for individuals with similar experienceto convey empathy, which facilitates the provision of emotional support (Wright and Bell, 2003).
Due to these features, online networks, such as online forums focused on adolescent pregnancyand parenting, might offer a useful alternative that allows adolescent parents to feel moreconnected to others who understand their situation (Dunham, et al., 1998). Research bySchotanus-Dijkstra, et al. (2014) suggests online support groups can be especially helpful forindividuals with a lack of face-to-face support options. Additionally, Nolan, et al. (2015) foundadolescent mothers felt more socially connected when they utilized online networks. Finally,adolescent pregnancy is oftentimes stigmatized (Wiemann, et al., 2005). Previous researchsuggested online support networks might be particularly useful to those who were stigmatizedbecause it provided them with a safe space to connect with similar others who were less likely tojudge them, as well as an opportunity to feel empowered (Rains, et al., 2015; Sherman andGreenfield, 2013). For example, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control andPrevention, states with the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy are located in the South andMidwest of the United States (Matthews and Hamilton, 2019). The Pew Research Center (2014)suggests many of the states with the highest rates of adolescent pregnancy also tend to bepolitically conservative, and have many residents that practice the Christian faith (Pew ResearchCenter, 2019). Given that unwed pregnancy is discouraged among Christians, it is possible thoseindividuals who grow up in religious and politically conservative areas, but become pregnantand/or have children as adolescents, may struggle to find support systems in their immediatepersonal environment.
Types of support necessary for adolescent parents/expectant adolescents
One way scholars have examined social support is to classify social support into five largecategories; informational support incorporates providing advice, referrals, and details aboutsituations. Emotional support includes providing empathy and physical contact. Tangible support
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refers to providing practical help. Providing compliments is the main feature of esteem support,and offering access to other sources is conceptualized as network support (Cutrona and Suhr,1992).
According to Cutrona and Russell’s (1990) optimal matching model, in order to determine thetype of social support that is most beneficial to the individual in need of support, one needs toconsider the controllability of the stressor. Stressors are controllable to the extent that theindividual is able to do something to prevent and/or diminish the stress caused by the situation inquestion. Those stressors that are controllable are best managed with support that is action-facilitating, or supportive acts that seek to eliminate the stressor or decrease its severity (Cutronaand Suhr, 1992). In the context of Cutrona and Russell’s (1990) typology, both informational andtangible support qualify as action-facilitating support (Cutrona and Suhr, 1992). Stressors thatare uncontrollable, however, are best managed with nurturing types of support, or supportive actsthat diminish the severity of negative emotions such as grief or guilt. In the context of theCutrona and Suhr (1992) typology, emotional and network support are considered to be nurturingtypes of support. The final type of support, esteem support, is said to be helpful for handling bothcontrollable and uncontrollable stressors (Cutrona and Suhr, 1992).
Adolescent pregnancy and being an adolescent parent present an interesting scenario to applyCutrona and Russell’s (1990) model because some aspects of the stress associated with being anadolescent parent/an expectant adolescent are controllable, but others are not. For example,research suggests expectant adolescents worry frequently about what to expect during pregnancyand delivery (de Anda, et al., 1992). Based on Cutrona and Suhr’s (1992) definition ofcontrollability, this particular type of stress should be considered controllable because questionsabout pregnancy and delivery can be answered by reading relevant books, talking to their doctoror case worker, attending parenting classes, and/or by asking others who have gone throughpregnancy and delivery about their experiences. In addition, Cutrona and Russell (1990) treatedtransition to parenthood as a controllable event.
However, de Anta, et al. (1992) also found that expectant adolescents frequently worried aboutbeing expected to act like an adult, but treated like a child by others; thus, their own identity andabilities. Additionally, Bierman and Streett (1982) believe adolescent pregnancy creates anidentity crisis for girls because they are not yet fully developed adults, but are treated as such bysociety and are judged by adult standards. Relatedly, the stigma placed on adolescent parents andexpectant adolescents by society and potentially even close others could be a source of stress andconcern (SmithBattle and Leonard, 2012). These identity-related issues are all based on thejudgments of others, which are largely out of the adolescent’s control and there might not beanything the adolescent can do to change the way others in society view them. Therefore, stressrelated to other people’s perceptions of an adolescent parent seems to be uncontrollable vis-à-visCutrona and Suhr’s (1992) definition.
With this in mind, it is possible that the stress associated with adolescent pregnancy andadolescent parenting is both controllable and uncontrollable, and that all five types of Cutronaand Russell’s (1990) support are potentially relevant to adolescent parents/expectant adolescents.Although all five types of support may be relevant in general, the nature of online supportcommunities can make certain types of support more useful in an online context than others. Thispossibility will be described in more detail below.
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Solicitation of types of social support online
A variety of research has utilized Cutrona and Russell’s (1990) typology to examine the mostprevalent types of support individuals tend to elicit within certain online contexts. Rains, et al.’s(2015) meta-analysis revealed that among these five types of social support, informational andemotional support were most frequently exchanged in health-related online communities,whereas tangible support was least evident compared to other types of support, indicating thatonline communities primarily served the function of advising and comforting (Rains, et al.,2015).
Although Rains, et al.’s (2015) meta-analysis included numerous studies that examined the topicof health-related online social support, a search for literature concerning online social support forexpectant adolescents and adolescent mothers yielded few results. Most of the articles werefocused on online interventions for adolescent parents, not naturally occurring support networks(e.g., Dunham, et al., 1998; Kauppi and Garg, 2009). However, Sherman and Greenfield (2013)did examine online social support and adolescent parenting in a naturally occurring onlinecontext. They analyzed four online forums focused on adolescent pregnancy and/or parenting.Their results showed although most posts were community oriented, the bulk of them did revealmessages related to emotional, informational, and tangible support.
Although Sherman and Greenfield’s (2013) study provided a glimpse into the world of naturallyoccurring online support groups for adolescent parents and/or adolescents who are expecting,there are still a variety of questions to be answered. For example, their study examined only threetypes of support: emotional, informational, and instrumental, but other types of support,particularly esteem support, are likely relevant to adolescent parents. Given that adolescentparenthood is stigmatized and adolescent parents report feeling like others treat them differentlyand look down upon them (SmithBattle and Leonard, 2012), it is possible adolescent parentsreach out to their online support networks for a boost in self-esteem and to help them recoverfrom the identity-related damage caused by stigmatization. More importantly, Cutrona and Suhr(1992) suggest esteem support is helpful for individuals experiencing both controllable anduncontrollable stressors, and adolescent pregnancy/adolescent parenthood is indeed associatedwith both controllable and uncontrollable stressors; thus, esteem support is likely important inthe context of adolescent parenthood. Since Sherman and Greenfield (2013) limited the scope oftheir study to only three types of support, we do not yet know if adolescent parents/expectantadolescents utilize their online networks for seeking esteem support as well.
Additionally, Cutrona and Russell’s (1990) optimal matching model suggests tangible support isuseful for those who experience controllable stressors, while network support is important forthose experiencing uncontrollable stressors. Although adolescent parents and expectantadolescents likely experience stressors that are both controllable and uncontrollable, individualsmay not turn to online support networks for tangible and network support because onlinenetworks tend to be geographically varied and may not easily provide the type of resourcesnecessary for these two types of support. In an effort to have a more holistic understanding of theonline social support exchange process for adolescent parents/expectant adolescents, the presentstudy proposed the following research question:
RQ1: How frequently do members of adolescentpregnancy/adolescent parenting online support groups solicit a)
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informational; b) emotional; c) tangible; d) esteem; and, e)network support in their forum posts?
In addition to studying support solicited by individuals, it is also important to understand the typeof support that is actually offered in online support communities. Importantly, previous researchfound that users tended to utilize online forums specifically so the type of support they soughtcould be matched by the support they received (Robinson and Turner, 2003; Walther and Boyd,2002). However, just because posters solicited a particular type of support that matches the typeof support they need does not mean a match is always provided. Vayreda and Antaki (2009)examined whether individuals’ posts in an online forum for bipolar disorder received responsesthat matched their desired support type. Their research showed many times when a membermade a post announcing their bipolar disorder it was often met with unsolicited advice,indicating a mismatch and ineffective communication between what the posters wanted and whatthe responders provided.
Therefore, in order to know whether online support forums offer a viable alternative foradolescent parents/expectant adolescent mothers and interactive communication environment,researchers need to examine whether the support offered in these forums is actually helpful (i.e.,whether the type of support offered matches the type of support solicited). To the authors’knowledge, no previous research has examined the match between support solicited and supportoffered on online teen pregnancy/parenting Web sites; therefore, the second research questionwas proposed:
RQ2: How frequently are the types of support solicited by users ofadolescent pregnancy/adolescent parenting forums matched byothers’ responses to their posts?
The population of interest for this study was posts made within online forums dedicated topregnant adolescents and/or adolescent parents. In order to sample the forums for this study, thefirst author conducted a Google search using the search terms “teen pregnancy forum” and“adolescent pregnancy forum.” This method is similar to that used by Sherman and Greenfield(2013). Additionally, since Google searches produce results that are listed based on popularityand relevance, the authors took into consideration only those boards in the top ten Web sitesproduced by the search. These two decisions were made because forums provided on the firstpage of a Google search would be most likely to be utilized by adolescents when searching for aforum to use. Out of those sites identified using the above criteria, the first author chose two foranalysis. These two sites were chosen based on multiple factors, including: a) they wereaccessible by the general public, which meant one did not have to be a member of the forum inorder to view posts; b) the posts were organized chronologically, which allowed randomselection of posts for analysis, and assured the researchers they chose posts off of each site that
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occurred during a specific time period; and, c) the Web sites had a relatively equal amount ofposts during the time period in question, which ensured differences in terms of frequency of userposts on each site would not cause a problem in any analyses. The importance of chronologicalorder of the posts is discussed in more detail in the procedures section.
Forum one was a sub-community of a more general pregnancy Web site. This forum had 22,697posts as of mid-October 2016. The Web site itself contained only forum posts and responses,with no other community features. The second forum was a community strictly dedicated toadolescent parenting, with a focus on adolescent motherhood and a smaller community foradolescent fatherhood. The site had 22,154 posts as of mid-October 2016. This second Web sitecontained many sections, including a dedicated forum for Q&A, as well as a space to postpersonal stories, and links to local pregnancy support services.
Prior to engaging in any sort of data collection, the authors obtained the Institutional ReviewBoard’s exemption for research because we were studying publicly accessible documents that donot require registration. After choosing the Web sites for the study, the authors randomlysampled threads in order to answer the two research questions. The goal of the first researchquestion was to examine what types of support members of online forums associated withadolescent pregnancy solicited in their posts; in order to answer this research question, theauthors randomly sampled 150 posts made between 2015 and 2016 from each of the two sites.This timeline was chosen because the authors were interested in the most recent trends in socialsupport messages at the time of data collection. Additionally, to determine the number of poststhat should be analyzed, the authors conducted an a priori power analysis using G*Power.According to the analysis, in order to detect medium effects with alpha at .05 and 95 percentpower, 145 threads should have been analyzed. Since 145 posts were the minimum, the authorsdecided to add five additional posts per site, resulting in the total of 150 per site. These postswere then coded based on the typology provided by Cutrona and Suhr (1992) as seeking a)informational; b) tangible; c) emotional; d) esteem; and/or, e) network support. The authorsrecognized that one individual post might contain requests for multiple types of support; thus,each message was coded as having each type of support either present or not present. Forexample, the authors examined every post requesting informational support (present or notpresent), then re-examined each post for requests of emotional support (present or not present)and so on and so forth for each of the five types of support.
Before actually engaging in the coding process, it was important to establish inter-coderreliability; therefore, once the individual posts were collected, 20 percent of the posts wererandomly selected and the coding was performed as described above. This first 20 percent servedas coder training. After the training was complete and all authors felt comfortable with thecodebook, they then randomly selected another 20 percent of data that each author codedseparately and calculated inter-coder reliability by utilizing Krippendorf’s (2011) alpha. Allreliabilities for different types of support were 1.00, so the authors split up the remaining dataand coded separately.
Procedures for the second research question were similar, except the authors randomly selected150 posts from the previous three years. This change was made because it was necessary toobtain a more diverse sample of posts for this particular question. After engaging in analysis for
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the first research question and briefly examining the results, we noticed the forums seemed tocontain more posts in previous years, with only a few posts per month within the last year.Therefore, we realized a longer time period might offer more insight into how the forums wereutilized during a high traffic time. Coding procedures were similar to those used for RQ1, butinstead of coding only the type(s) of support solicited in the initial posts, the authors also codedthe type of support offered in first response to each post. The first response was chosen foranalysis because in some instances only one response was given to support-seeking posts.Additionally, in many situations the first response would be the first message the original postersees, making it the first possible instance of receiving support. These first messages could beparticularly influential to those posters who were seeking time-sensitive advice.
Once both the original post and the first response were coded for the type(s) of support theycontained (i.e., informational, emotional, tangible, esteem, and/or network), the authors thenexamined whether the response a) contained no support message; b) contained some support butdid not fully match the type(s) solicited; c) fully matched the type(s) of support solicited; or, d)fully matched and provided extra support that was not solicited. This was determined based onhow the type(s) of support offered in the response to the initial message compared to the type(s)of support solicited in the initial message. For example, if the original message asked forinformational support, but the response contained informational support and emotional support,it was considered a full match that provided extra support that was not solicited. If a message hadasked for informational support and received just informational support, this was considered afull match. If a post asked for informational support, but instead received tangible support, it wascoded as containing some support, but not the type that was solicited. Finally, if the original postasked for informational support, but the response did not provide any type of support at all, thiswas considered a no support message.
It was important to differentiate between these four categories of support match because previousresearch has suggested examining social support messages for matches should be more nuancedthan simply looking for a complete match or no match (Vayreda and Antaki, 2009). The authorsthen went through the same coder training process mentioned above, with all but one categoryhaving 1.0 Krippendorf’s alpha reliability (network support for the response was α = .88). Theauthors discussed their discrepancy until they agreed upon the proper way to code for networksupport and then coded the remaining data separately.
The typology provided by Cutrona and Suhr (1992) was utilized to code for types of supportsolicited and provided in posts. The types of support examined were: informational, tangible,emotional, network and esteem support. Informational support was defined as supportivemessages that provide factual information, guidance and advice. Tangible aid referred tomessages providing practical help (Cutrona and Suhr, 1992). Emotional support was defined asmessages that provide comfort, empathy, warmth, and encouragement. Network support wasdefined as messages providing a sense of membership and belonging. Finally, esteem supportwas defined as messages providing compliments and reassurance that speak to the supportseekers’ identity and/or self-esteem.
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RQ1 was concerned with the types of support users solicited in their forum posts. Frequencycounts showed informational support (n = 108, 67.33 percent) was the most common type ofsolicited support, followed by emotional support (n = 61, 40.67 percent), esteem support (n = 13,8.67 percent), network support (n = 3, 2 percent) and no posts contained tangible support. A chi-square test of independence was conducted to see whether types of support solicited differedbased on the forum in which the post was made. All tests were non-significant, indicating nosignificant differences in the types of support solicited based on the forum: χ2information (1, N =150) = 2.42, p = .12; χ2tangible (1, N = 150) = 1.03, p = .31; χ
2emotional (1, N = 150) = .40, p =
.53; χ2network (1, N = 150) = 3.14, p = .08 χ2esteem (1, N = 150) = .67, p = .41. Table 1 shows
examples of messages related to RQ1.
Table 1: Various types of social support solicited bymembers’ posts in adolescent parenting forums.Note: All messages are displayed as written by thecommunity members. Any grammatical/spelling
mistakes errors are presented verbatim to preserve theauthenticity of the post.
Hi there So occasionally I would be 2days late but i would start my period.But this is the longest time I haventstarted. I took two tests (on separatedays) and both say negative. I havebeen working out excessively, I am onthe track team. My start date wassupposed to be the 17th but my trackmeet was on the 16th. Could all thetraining and running postpone that? Imusually on time with my period. Not tomention. I have been eating a lot moreand there is white discharge. My backhurts but it always does. Im bloated. Ihavent been eating healthy in twoweeks. The last time I had protected sexwas last sunday. What could this be?Why is it like this? Is it the exercise andunhealthy eating habits?
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Hey. Maybe somebody still know me? Iam a Girl from Germany and got mylittle son 4 years ago. Today I testedpositive again — I was really shocked— cause I don’t know how! I am scared… Scared of my parents Scared of myboyfriendScared of the future :-/ Why?
Hey girls, Im 4 weeks pregnant,thought it would be nice having somepregnancy buddies! Im russian and mybaby daddy is ethiopean, so thats arainbow baby Im excited Anyone justfound out shes pregnant too? Nice tomeet you ladies
I feel like I’m now starting to be moredepressed, and it’s been a a year sinceI’ve had my son. I feel like I’mvanishing and this new..boring and sadgirl is taking over. I just feel so blahand not myself. I feel SOOO sad anddepressed and I just cry. I cry because Ifeel like I’m not good at what I’msupposed to be doing. I’m not theperfect mother and I just want my sonto enjoy life like i didnt. I want to bethe mother i didnt have. I feel bad nowas a mother, as I look back at how Iwish i was treated as a child. i feelselfish for wanting to be the best. I feellike I’m being lazy by notaccomplishing everything. I’m notgraduating on time. I don’t haveimagination, I feel like a fat lazy bumwhen my son is happy playing and ijust dont have the energy or want, to sitdown there and play and laugh. Don’tget me wrong, i talk and sing and readand play with him all the time. But ifeel like its my obligation to do thatALL THE TIME. Because I didn’t haveany of that. I just want to have a healthyand happy baby boy. I feel like I’mgoing crazy and that no one feels thesame. this is the first time I’ve gottenthis off my chest.. :/
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RQ2 concerned the types of support community members offered in response to a supportsolicitation message, and whether the type of support given matched the type of support sought.For each type of support, we examined whether the solicited support type was matched,unmatched, or overmatched (support was provided when not solicited). For informationalsupport, about 84 percent of original messages (n = 89)  were matched with the solicited typeof support while 16 percent (n = 17) were unmatched. There were a total of seven cases (15.9percent, out of 44) of overmatching. See Table 2 for the cross-tabulation between the originalpost and its first response in terms of presence and absence of informational support.
A chi-square test of independence was also conducted to examine whether there was a significantdifference between an original post and the reply post in terms of the presence or absence ofinformational support. The results were significant, χ2 (1, N = 150) = 62.50, p < .001, suggestingif the original post requested informational support, the reply post also provided informationalsupport more frequently than expected by chance. The same goes for the absent case of originalpost; if the post did not ask for informational support, the reply most likely did not provide it. Allin all, this analysis confirmed that in these two teenage pregnancy sites studied, informationalsupport was matched between support seekers and providers.
Table 2: Cross-tabulation of informational support, originalpost with informational support, reply.
Note: Each subscript letter denotes a subset of informationalsupport, Reply categories whose column proportions do not differ
significantly from each other at the .05 level.
Absent Present Total
Count 37a 7b 44
Expectedcount 15.8 28.2 44.0
% withininformationalsupport,original post
84.1% 15.9% 100.0%
68.5% 7.3% 29.3%
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Count 17a 89b 106
Expectedcount 38.2 67.8 106.0
% withininformationalsupport,original post
16.0% 84.0% 100.0%
31.5% 92.7% 70.7%
Count 54 96 150
Expectedcount 54.0 96.0 150.0
% withininformationalsupport,original post
36.0% 64.0% 100.0%
100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
For emotional support, only 32.8 percent (n = 20) of original messages were matched with thesolicited type of support while 67.2 percent (n = 41) were unmatched. There were a total of 20(22.5%, out of 89) cases of overmatching (see Table 3 for the cross-tabulation). Compared to theinformational support case, emotional support was much less frequently matched, but morefrequently overmatched as well. A chi-square test of independence was conducted to examinewhether there was a statistically significant difference between an original post and the reply postin terms of the presence or absence of emotional support. The results were not significant, χ2 (1,N = 150) = 1.97, p = .16. Therefore, when an original post sought emotional support, manytimes, the first response did not provide it; also, when an original post did not ask for anemotional support, the reply post often provided it anyway, which indicates a poor matching ofthis particular support.
Table 3: Cross-tabulation of emotional support, original
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post with emotional support, reply.Note: Each subscript letter denotes a subset of emotional
support, Reply categories whose column proportions do notdiffer significantly from each other at the .05 level.
Absent Present Total
Count 69a 20a 89
Expectedcount 65.3 23.7 89.0
77.5% 22.5% 100.0%
62.7% 50.0% 59.3%
Count 41a 20a 61
Expectedcount 44.7 16.3 61.0
67.2% 32.8% 100.0%
37.3% 50.0% 40.7%
Count 110 40 150
Expectedcount 110.0 40.0 150.0
% withinemotionalsupport, 73.3% 26.7% 100.0%
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100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
Unfortunately, there was no original post that specifically asked for tangible support; thus, howmany were matched by its solicited type could not be calculated. However, in reply messages,there were 24 cases (16 percent, out of 150) of providing tangible support when none wassolicited, which belonged to the case of overmatching. Due to the absence of soliciting tangiblesupport in the original post, a chi-square test could not be conducted.
For network support, nine out of 11 cases (81.8 percent) were matched with their solicitation.There were 28 cases (20.1 percent, out of 139) of overmatching that provided unsolicitednetwork support (see Table 4 for the cross-tabulation). A chi-square test of independence wasconducted to examine whether there was a significant difference between an original post and thereply in terms of the presence or absence of network support. The results were significant, χ2 (1,N = 150) = 20.86, p < .001, indicating that, if the original post requested network support, thereply post also provided network support more frequently than expected by chance (eight out often times). The same goes for the absent case of original post; if the post did not ask networksupport, the reply most likely did not provide it, either (also, eight out of ten times). In summary,this analysis confirmed that in these two teenage pregnancy Web sites, network support wasmatched between support seekers and providers.
Table 4: Cross-tabulation of network support, originalpost with network support, reply.
Note: Each subscript letter denotes a subset of networksupport, Reply categories whose column proportions donot differ significantly from each other at the .05 level.
Absent Present Total
Count 111a 28b 139
Expectedcount 104.7 34.3 139.0
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79.9% 20.1% 100.0%
98.2% 75.7% 92.7%
Count 2a 9b 11
Expectedcount 8.3 2.7 11.0
18.2% 81.8% 100.0%
1.8% 24.3% 7.3%
Count 113 37 150
Expectedcount 113.0 37.0 150.0
75.3% 24.7% 100.0%
100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
For esteem support, 60 percent (6 out of 10) were matched with their solicitation in the originalpost, and the rest (40 percent) were unmatched. There were eight cases (5.7 percent, out of 140)of overmatching (see Table 5 for the cross-tabulation results). Again, a chi-square test ofindependence was conducted to examine whether there was a statistically significant differencebetween an original post and the reply post in terms of the presence or absence of esteem
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support. The results were significant, χ2 (1, N = 150) = 32.50, p < .001, suggesting if the originalpost requested esteem support, the reply post also provided esteem support more frequently thanexpected by chance (six out of ten times). The same goes for the absent case of original post; ifthe post did not ask for esteem support, the reply most likely did not provide it, either (nine outof ten times). In summary, this analysis confirmed that in these two teenage pregnancy forums,esteem support exchange was close to being matched between support seekers and providers.
Table 5: Cross-tabulation of esteem support, originalpost with esteem support, reply.
Note: Each subscript letter denotes a subset of esteemsupport, Reply categories whose column proportions donot differ significantly from each other at the .05 level.
Absent Present Total
Count 132a 8b 140
Expectedcount 126.9 13.1 140.0
94.3% 5.7% 100.0%
97.1% 57.1% 93.3%
Count 4a 6b 10
Expectedcount 9.1 0.9 10.0
40.0% 60.0% 100.0%
% withinesteem 2.9% 42.9% 6.7%
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Count 136 14 150
Expectedcount 136.0 14.0 150.0
90.7% 9.3% 100.0%
100.0% 100.0% 100.0%
The current study analyzed social support messages both solicited and provided in onlineadolescent pregnancy/parenting forums in order to bring a new context of online social supportinto light. The results of this study support Sherman and Greenfield’s (2013) findings, but alsobuild upon them by examining the role of both support solicited and support provided in onlinecommunities for adolescent parents and adolescent parenting. Becoming an adolescent parent isassociated with a variety of life changes, some of which can cause an identity crisis (e.g.,stigmatization), sadness (e.g., loss of a friendship network), or confusion (e.g., not knowing whatto expect after becoming a parent) (de Anda, et al., 1992; Sherman and Greenfield, 2013).Because support is so integral to the success of adolescent parents (Furstenberg and Hughes,1995), but many adolescent parents and expectant adolescents may see a decrease in their face-to-face support networks after becoming pregnant (Sherman and Greenfield, 2013), it isimportant for scholars to understand the role online communities may play in their supportexchange processs.
This research was based on the optimal matching model provided by Cutrona and Russell(1990), which infers the types of support that should be most relevant to individuals on howcontrollable stress might be, especially stress associated with a specific event. According toresearch about the stress associated with adolescent pregnancy, stressors expectant adolescentsand adolescent parents experience are likely both controllable and uncontrollable (de Anda, etal., 1992); therefore, the authors expected to see all five types of support solicited in the onlinesocial support forums examined. However, we were unsure how often each type of supportwould be solicited, particularly in an online context. It is important to understand what type of
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support users seek online most often because this information gives researchers insight into thetypes of stress expectant adolescents and adolescent parents are dealing with in their face-to-facenetworks.
A content analysis completed for research question one revealed members of adolescentpregnancy support groups most frequently solicited informational support, followed byemotional, esteem, and network support, which mimics the results found by Rains, et al. (2015).Specifically, solicitation of informational support was present in 67.3 percent of posts, whilesolicitation of emotional support was present in 40.7 percent, esteem support in 8.7 percent,network support in only two percent, and no posts contained solicitation of tangible support.These results highlight the fact that expectant adolescents and adolescent parents seem to turn toonline networks to manage the controllable aspect of their stress most often, although thefrequency of emotional support also suggests they turn to online networks for help managinguncontrollable stressors as well.
Based on the likelihood that adolescent pregnancy/parenthood is associated with bothcontrollable and uncontrollable stressors, network (uncontrollable) and tangible (controllable)support should have also been popular in users’ posts; however, solicitation of network supportwas only present in only two percent of posts in this study and solicitations for tangible supportwas not found in any of the posts. Perhaps this was because many users on the two sites werefrom all around the world. Soliciting and receiving network and tangible support becomesdifficult as they may require support group members to meet in person.
The lack of esteem support solicitation was less intuitive, given the stigma historically associatedwith adolescent pregnancy (Wiemann, et al., 2005) and esteem support being associated withidentity and self-esteem reinforcement. Additionally, esteem support is said to be helpful for anystressor regardless of its controllability, so why was esteem support not solicited frequently inthis study? Perhaps pregnant adolescents did not think online support networks were anappropriate place to go to receive esteem support and instead turned to those close others theyhad face-to-face relationships with for this type of very personal support. Granovetter’s (1973)distinction between strong and weak ties help explain why users may have felt like theconnections they made within their online networks have not been able to provide adequateesteem support. Granovetter (1973) says strong-tie networks are made up of those thatindividuals have known for a long time and that they have a close emotional connection with,whereas weak-tie networks (associated with online support sites) are most useful for receivingdifferent perspectives and new information. If someone needs their esteem to be boosted, theymay not feel like individuals in online networks are capable of providing it because they are partof their weak tie network and do not necessarily know them well. This is not to deny thepossibility of online support networks providing esteem support; in fact, many members of theadolescent pregnancy Web sites we studied provided esteem support in their responses for thesupport seekers who may have felt uncertainty and low self-esteem due to the unexpectedpregnancy. Our interpretation is from the support seekers’ perspective and why they may nothave actively sought out esteem support from these Web sites.
According to Cutrona and Suhr (1992), stressors that are expected to last a long time tend to beassociated with seeking informational support. Pregnancy certainly is a life-changing and long-lasting stressor especially for adolescents who did not expect this to happen; therefore, this mightaccount for why informational support message exchanges were most common. Additionally,
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research in other health-related contexts has found situations that are complicated, controversial,and difficult to manage require more informational support in order to relay technicalinformation and professional knowledge (Coulson, 2005). In fact, many of the posts examinedfor the first research question involved posters asking for advice from others and helprecognizing pregnancy symptoms. For example, one user posted:
Anyone familiar with pregnancy symptoms? I haven’t gotten myperiod in almost 2 months and I've been experiencing a few thingslike nausea, bloating, minor headaches, discharge, stomach makesnoises … I took 2 home pregnancy test and both came backnegative…? I took them later in the day because I hadn't known it’smost effective in the morning. I haven’t gone to doctors because Ifigured the home test were correct but I still haven’t gotten myperiod … Pretty concerned.
This example is indicative of the types of questions posters asked, and highlights the use ofonline networks for health-related information. Pregnancy tends to be complicated and difficultto manage on one’s own, especially for a young parent, which might also explain whyinformational support was frequently sought. Finally, Rains, et al.’s (2015) meta-analysis foundthat informational support was the most sought out type of online social support in health-relatedforums. Since adolescent parenting/pregnancy could be considered a health-related issue (andmany posts were concerned with health during pregnancy/finding out if one was pregnant), itmakes sense that these results were consistent with research findings in other health-relatedcontexts.
The second research question of our study was to understand the types of responses communitymembers provided to individuals who solicited support online, and whether the type of providedsupport matched the type of solicited support. Results of the content analysis revealed membersin online communities for adolescent pregnancy/parenting provided replies that fully matchedthe support solicited in the original message most frequently, followed by replies that containedextra support, partially matched the solicited support, and no support. It was apparent that a largeportion of replies in adolescent pregnancy/parenting forums met or even exceeded the needs ofcommunity members who sought social support, suggesting a relatively effective communicationenvironment, positive atmosphere, and utility of these online communities. These results alsoresonated with Sherman and Greenfield’s (2013) finding that the majority of comments onadolescent pregnancy/parenting forums were friendly and supportive.
However, there were noticeable differences in how each type of support was matched in thesetwo forums. While informational and network support was matched with the solicited type ofsupport (80 percent or above), emotional support was much less frequently matched (around 33percent). Esteem support’s matching rate was somewhere between those two (i.e., 60 percent).Interestingly though, emotional support that was less frequently matched than other types ofsupport, was often overmatched; when the original post did not ask for emotional support, thereply post often provided it anyway. There were many cases of overmatching for esteem supportas well. For example, in response to a post asking for advice about managing her failingrelationship with her unborn child’s father, one community member wrote:
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Hi! Being pregnant at any age is a lot to handle, but especiallybeing young, it can be difficult to know what to do. But there arepeople to help! First I would suggest telling your parents. I knowthat’s not easy, trust me I’ve been there. Secondly, I would stronglysuggest getting to a doctor or pregnancy clinic because 4 months ispretty far along. You can find a pregnancy center near you on oursites home page. About the boyfriend, if he isn’t there for you now,give him time for the shock to wear off, if he still isn’t supportivethen let him go. You only want supportive and positive peoplearound you right now. Let us know if you need anything. Goodluck with everything. Let us know how you’re doing.
In this response you can see that the community member addressed both emotional and esteemconcerns for the original poster (e.g., “Being pregnant at any age is a lot to handle, but especiallybeing young …”, “I know that’s not easy, trust me I’ve been there”, etc.); however, the originalpost only asked for advice about communicating with the father. This situation exemplified howcommunity members seemed to recognize the needs support seekers might have and respondbased on those needs instead of focusing only on providing the exact support type solicited (forthe above case, it would have been informational support).
These results highlight the idea that perhaps community members realized how importantemotional and esteem support can be to adolescent parents and expectant adolescents andprovided these types of support even when individuals did not solicit them in their original posts.In this context, these results provide evidence for how helpful online support networks could beto those dealing with adolescent pregnancies and/or parenting issues. Members of thesecommunities seem to provide support that is geared towards helping people manage the negativeemotions and stress associated with becoming a young parent, such as guilt due to stigmatizationor sadness from the loss of a friend network, even if the young parents themselves do not realizethey need that type of support, or are too afraid to ask for it.
Limitations and future directions
While the results of this study offer useful insights about online adolescent pregnancy forumsand supportive communication exchanged there, the results are not generalizable beyond the twosites that were studied. Future research should therefore examine the social support process in alarger sample of online adolescent pregnancy forums. Additionally, the sample size of posts forthis study was relatively small, 150 for research question one and 150 pairs (300 total messages)for research question two. Sherman and Greenfield (2013) examined 200 posts; however, theyalso examined four websites in total (50 posts per site). Therefore, the number of posts examinedper forum website actually exceeded previous research on this topic. However, future researchersshould seek to examine larger samples of support messages across a longer time frame to seewhether there is any noticeable difference across distinctive sites over time.
Finally, future researchers should continue to examine how the type of support solicited mightinfluence the match in support that is provided, and consider what aspects of the forums’ topicsmay contribute to this relationship. This study found significant differences between the types ofsupport and how they were matched by responses, which seemed to reflect the experiences andneeds of adolescent parents. More research unraveling this difference is necessary so scholars
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can understand these relationships more fully.
Research focused on support messages exchanged in online forums has flourished over the pastdecade in communication and technology literature; however, very few have examined the onlinesupport process of adolescent parents and/or adolescents who are expecting. This studysupported previous research by suggesting adolescents seeking online support were most likelyto solicit informational and emotional support. Additionally, the results of this study added toprevious research by showing that solicitations of support were either fully matched by otherusers’ responses, or matched and given additional types of support that were not originallysolicited. This indicates messages adolescents posted on pregnancy forums were generally metwith sufficient support, or replied with more support than posters solicited. The findings begetthe popular notion of online space being dangerous for adolescents full of inappropriate contentsand predators. At least the two forums we studied showed mostly positive and supportivecommunication environments that is helpful to adolescent parents or those who are expecting.Finally, the amount of match that a response provided seemed to differ based on the type ofsupport solicited in the original post. Informational and network support were more matched thanesteem or emotional support. Exchange of social support is integral to the success of familieswith adolescent parents; thus, we recommend that future research continues to examine thesupport exchange process adolescents engage in various online environments.
About the authors
Eryn Bostwick, Ph.D., is an Assistant College Lecturer in the School of Communication atCleveland State University. Her research specializes in understanding interpersonal and familycommunication processes, and she has frequently examined the role that technology plays inmanaging relationships and relational issues. Her research has been published in the Journal ofFamily Communication, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Studies in Media andCommunication, and Communication Reports.Direct comments to: e [dot] n [dot] bostwick [at] csuohio [dot] edu
Danni Liao is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication at University of Illinois atUrbana-Champaign. Danni’s research interests lie at the intersection of health, interpersonal, andintercultural communication. Her research focuses on cross-cultural care, examininginternational medical graduates’ influence on patient evaluation and their communicationcompetence.E-mail: dannil3 [at] illinois [dot] edu
Sun Kyong (Sunny) Lee, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communicationat the University of Oklahoma. Her research examines socio-cultural aspects of communicationtechnology uses and organizational communication networks of ethnic and religious immigrant
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communities. Her research on social support networks of a Korean immigrant community can befound in Communication Research, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, andInternational Journal of Intercultural Relations. Other studies have been published in FirstMonday, Computers in Human Behavior, and Management Communication Quarterly.E-mail: sunklee [at] ou [dot] edu
The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviews for their feedback on previous drafts ofthis manuscript. Their comments and guidance have helped to clarify issues and improve thequality of this paper.
1. The percentage was calculated based on the cross tabulation between the original post and thereply post in their presence and absence of a particular type of support.
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Received 26 March 2019; revised 5 June 2019; revised 30 July 2019; accepted 30 July 2019.
“Could I be pregnant? A study of online adolescent pregnancy forums for social support” byEryn N. Bostwick, Danni Liao, and Sun Kyong Lee is licensed under a Creative CommonsAttribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Could I be pregnant? A study of online adolescent pregnancy forums for social supportby Eryn N. Bostwick, Danni Liao, and Sun Kyong Lee.First Monday, Volume 24, Number 9 – 2 September 2019https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/download/9950/8069doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i9.9950