Using Technology to Uncover Adolescents’ Patterns of Social Connectedness During COVID

April 21, 2021 @ 4:17 pm
By Alissa Davis

In this post for our special series on social work in times of crisis, Assistant Professor Alissa Davis, who leads the Adolescent Responses to COVID-19 (ARC) study, a project of the Social Intervention Group (SIG), shares lessons learned and some new directions and priorities for the project’s current and post-COVID research agenda. The ARC study aims to examine adolescents’ patterns of social connectedness during the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on adolescent mental health, through a mobile app and smartwatch. .

My original research plan was to design a study to inform the development of a real-time mobile mental health intervention for adolescents from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, I refocused the project to examine adolescents’ patterns of social connectedness during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it was having on their mental health, particularly given that many of them come from communities that were being disproportionately affected by COVID. The study was called Adolescent Responses to COVID-19 (ARC).

Because the study started in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, my team and I knew we would be facing the challenge of conducting the study in a remote format. Instead of having an in-person baseline appointment to conduct all study procedures and set-up the mobile app and smartwatches for them, we mailed smartwatches to participants, and then their assigned research assistant held a video call with them to show them how to set up the study app on their phone and connect it to their smartwatch.

Fortunately, we were working with young people, most of whom are adept at using these types of technologies. There were some technical challenges that some of our participants came across, but our research assistants were able to resolve most of those via a call with participants. Things went pretty smoothly.

Already, our study is yielding some interesting and important information about how adolescents are coping during this period of non-normalcy. The team looks forward to examining the data we are collecting and deriving insight into the the impact the pandemic has had on adolescents of different racial/ethnic backgrounds in three major areas: 1) changes in their social connectedness; 2) experiences of stigma and discrimination; and 3) mental health outcomes.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned is that people react to stressful situations differently and need different tools to help them deal with these situations. Some of our adolescent participants appear to be doing fairly well during the pandemic, despite drastic changes from normal life and many added levels of stress, while other participants are really struggling. To me, this reinforces the need for multiple intervention strategies that are adaptable to people in many different contexts—a topic I plan to focus on post-pandemic.

Alissa Davis is an assistant professor at CSSW. She works extensively on a number of studies in New York City and Central Asia with researchers at SIG and the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia.

Related link:

Professors Davis and Patton Receive Provost’s Diversity Grants