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Digital Subscriptions > Healthy Food Guide > September 2018 > THERE’S AN APP FOR THATÉ


Finding the teenage years difficult?

AS A RESEARCH PSYCHOLOGIST and longstanding weekly columnist for The Times, I’ve always known how hard it is for young people to get safe, sensible, age-appropriate advice about sex and relationships. Even now that the government has finally agreed to make sex education mandatory, progress is glacially slow and, let’s face it, how easy is it ever going to be for a teenager to share intimate problems with the person who marks their history essay? Sex is private and personal, so classroombased sex education is always going to be a compromise. However, 96% of teenagers now own a smartphone, so I figured the best way to provide young people with the information they needed about sexual health and safety would be to bypass the constraints of the education system altogether and get it to them directly via their mobiles.


I knew Kerstyn, one of the mothers at my youngest daughter’s trampolining class, had a PhD in engineering and was keen on coding, so we teamed up to develop the idea. Kerstyn had also set up a parent-led free school, so she was hot on education. We spent the first year interviewing teenagers, parents and teachers. We then built a rudimentary app that allowed young people to ask questions anonymously, and piloted it in three secondary schools. We expected that the questions would mainly be about sex, relationships, sexuality or gender, but we were wrong. As well as all the anticipated concerns, the young people in our pilot expressed anxiety about exams, parental pressure, family breakdown, friendship issues, loneliness, body image, self-harm, anxiety, depression and a whole host of other mental health issues.

The teenage years are tricky for all concerned. Two mothers, research psychologist Suzi Godson and education technologist Kerstyn Comley, went straight to the source of the ‘problem’ – teenagers themselves – and launched a peer-support app where young people can open up anonymously. Suzi shares what she’s learned and helps parents navigate those sex, drugs and rock ‘n‘ and roll upsets, along with the more mundane but troubling teen preoccupations…

We came away knowing two things: first, that the app was greatly needed; second, that we had to extend its remit to support young people in a much broader way. Armed with our pilot data, we went back to the drawing board. Kerstyn worked on technical development and I immersed myself in teenage issues.

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About Healthy Food Guide

We help you identify when your body's trying to tell you something, and give diet advice for protecting your eyesight in future years. Troubled by teens? We’ve got the ultimate survival guide for parents and teenagers, including focused nutrition info. We also take inspiration from the healthcare professionals battling their personal weight demons – and winning. And don’t miss the winning line-up of our Best of Health Awards to help you shop healthily into the new season...