We have succeeded in attracting the boys On our project day, pedagogical consultant with Centre for Digital Youth Care, Niels-Christian Bilenberg, was able to reveal that we have succeeded in encouraging boys to seek help on MitAssist.dk. Following one year’s history of MitAssist.dk, boys count for 88% (equalling 314 boys) of the site’s users , while girls only count for 12% (equalling 44 girls) of the site’s users. At the same time, this means that the number of boys, during our first year, has already exceeded our target for the entire project period (spring 2015 – autumn 2017) with 200 boys. The first year (1 November 2015 – 31 October 2016), users asked 237 questions, of which 215 questions were asked by boys, and 22 questions were asked by girls. These numbers are untypical to online youth counselling where usually girls are strongly overrepresented among users. The reason we have managed to draw in boys is, among others, due to the fact that MitAssist is built on gamification which is an element that particularly appeals to young boys.

Coach – definitely not a counsellor!

The concept of gamification on MitAssist.dk is expressed by the fact that a counsellor is called a coach, and help is called an assist. These expressions – to boys – are well-known expressions from the world of gaming, a world that do not readily remind them of the type of traditional (online) counselling which they may not feel like visiting. That is, focus should deter somewhat from the idea of needing help.
“Had we named the site BoyTalk (a site of the name GirlTalk exists, Ed.), it wouldn’t work – that would scare the boys away. Instead, we have created a universe, which by help of expressions from the gaming world, appeals to boys,” explains Niels-Christian Bilenberg.
However, Niels-Christian Bilenberg also states that they know they are not able to target all boys by MitAssist:
“We cannot create a site for every boy out there. As in, you cannot create a youth counselling for all young people out there. So, we may not reach all boys but if we reach boys who don’t feel like using Cyberhus.dk or TUBA.dk, then we have made good progress,” says Niels-Christian Bilenberg.

MitAssist.dk has a dual function

From interviews and questionnaires, evaluation consultant with Ineva, Amalie Agerbæk, explained it could be concluded that boys use MitAssist.dk for two purposes; receiving help, but also providing help to others. A boy, 16, confirmed this in an interview, when he was asked about how MitAssist could be useful:
“Having your problems solved by people who have some experience. And the other thing is being able to help others. Giving advice to others if you’ve tried something they ask about. I think it’s nice to help others. Bad experiences can be used to help others – so, in a way something good comes out of your own, perhaps, bad experiences. Or good ones, too.”
Amalie Agerbæk explained that it is of great value to the boys to be able to help each other, which also means that there is rarely unanswered questions on MitAssist. 70% of questions asked are relatively “lightweight” problems such as being in love, heartaches, jealousy, or loneliness. 15% of questions asked belong to the more heavy category, and may for instance deal with self-harm, addiction, or abuse.

MitAssist.dk provides a framework for a community

According to Niels-Christian Bilenberg, it is rarely necessary for coaches to interfere with the assists young people hand each other:
“We experience a great deal of caring and high quality when users help each other. As regards to content, young people’s answers are just as good those given by coaches. So, we rarely find it necessary to interfere. We let our young people reply to each other’s questions – this is of far more value when we do not interfere,” Bilenberg says.
So, an online community has been established where boys greatly seek assists from other boys.
“We thought we were going to be a counselling, however, we became a community. The community is the cornerstone of MitAssist.dk. People support each other. You can be both passive or active. You can receive and give,” says Camilla Rode Jensen, project coordinator with MitAssist.dk.

Future challenges: What about the girls?

On our project day, we also discussed future challenges. One of them being how to make sure that MitAssist.dk stays a counselling site for boys. Because girls are also users of MitAssist, and although the number of girls is not all that high, it is increasing, according to Niels-Christian Bilenberg:
“We have only few girls on MitAssist, but the number is increasing, so how would this develop in five years time? This is something we are very attentive to.”
During this past year, 552 assists have been given on MitAssist.dk; boys have given 370 assists, girls have given 112 assists, and coaches have given 70 assists. So, the girls are relatively active compared to their number when it comes to giving assists. According to Bilenberg, these assists are really good and constructive, and so, it is not a problem that girls are present on MitAssist.dk. However, it would be a problem if the number of girls becomes too big, because this would mean that the boys may withdraw:
“It is clear that something else happens if a lot of girls are present. If the boys have time and space, they reply just as well to questions as girls would have. However, if the girls are quicker and have said what needed to be said, then boys hold back. And there must be room for boys, and we do focus on boys with MitAssist. If too many girls use MitAssist, boys don’t enter. Then they refrain from asking questions,” Bilenberg explains.

Facts about MitAssist.dk

The project is supported by the Velux foundation and will run until the end of 2017. Hereafter, we hope that MitAssist.dk will be of such value to both boys and the municipal youth counsellings in Denmark that the online counselling platform of MitAssist.dk may continue. This project is supported by:
Suppprted by the Velux Foundation
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