Feel Alone? Have a Sensitive Question? Check out the Real Talk App, a Safe Space for Teen Stories
By Leslie Massicotte, Teens Climb High Program Assistant
For this blog post, we decided to interview the CEO of an app for teens called Real Talk. Created right here in North Carolina, the app is for teens to share stories about sex, puberty, relationships, and figuring out who they are. Over 20,000 teens across the world use the app(!), and it’s a great tool for teens to learn more about their sexual health in a fun, safe way. Check out our interview with Real Talk’s cofounder and CEO below to learn more!
1. First, tell me who you are and what the app is!
My name is Cristina Leos. I’m one of the cofounders and now CEO of the nonprofit organization called My Health Ed. We run the Real Talk mobile app.
Real Talk is a mobile app that connects teenagers 13-17 with authentic stories from other teens and trusted online resources on sexual health, mental health, and identity topics.
The goal is to connect teens to the information and resources that they need to support their health and to also help them know that they are not alone in their experiences growing up.
2. So how does the app work?
The first page of the app is a feed of stories--basically it looks a little bit like Instagram because we have big, colorful tiles that present little previews of the stories for teens to browse. We publish between one and three stories a day, with the most recently published stories available at the top of the feed.
You can click into the story tile to read the full story presented in a series of text bubbles, so it’s almost like you’re reading a text conversation from a friend. At the bottom of the story, we provide a link to a high quality online resource on that topic for anyone that wants to learn more. So usually that’ll be an article or a video or a link to a hotline or something that’s relevant.
You can also submit your own story directly within the app. There’s a little section that says “submit” and [when] you click on it, you see 3 different topics that we’re currently collecting stories on. When you select one, you’re taken to this chatbot-type experience where teens will see a series of questions to help guide them through the storytelling process that they respond to one at a time. And then on our end, when we get their submission, we’ll link their story together and pair it with an online resource to then be published into the app. You can also react to a story and to the story bubbles with a few different emoji options.
3. What are some examples of topics on the app?
We publish content in three main categories--puberty, relationships and bullying. However, those are really loose and broad categories. We actually fit a lot of different topics underneath those. For example, we collect stories on how young people keep themselves safe during sex, what contraception or pregnancy prevention methods they use, how to have a difficult conversation with an adult, whether it’s about dating or even grades…. We have some stories on how to come out to your friends and family and parents. [And] for LGBTQ or gender non-conforming or trans teens, [we have] some stories around how you experience puberty and deal with changes in your body when that doesn’t always match how you feel or how you’re expressing your gender or your sexual orientation. So there’s a broad range of topics that we cover in the app.
4. Who uses the app?
Actually just about a month ago we crossed 20,000 downloads since we launched, so that’s very exciting! The app is publicly available on the app store for anyone to download so it’s not limited to North Carolina. We have users in all 50 US states and [in] tons of countries around the world.
We focus squarely on teenagers [in the] 13-17 range with a specific focus on 13-15. We also have pretty significant engagement from 18-24 year olds, in that college and young adult age group. About 75% of our users identify as female, somewhere around 20% identify as male, and then the rest identify as nonbinary or some other gender as well, which is cool to see that.
About a third of our users identify as LGBTQ and then about half identify racially as something other than white.
5. What has surprised you (if anything) in youth responses?
There were so many things that surprised us! [First], we were surprised at how willing young people have been to share pretty personal stories with us…. Sometimes they share really personal, really vulnerable, [and] really powerful stories, and that has been amazing to see. I’m so grateful that we have built this community that allows that and that young people are willing to share these stories. Because it’s exactly those types of stories that can have the greatest impact on other people and help them know that they’re not alone. These are things that others are going through and that they can overcome. So that’s a major thing that was surprising.
Another thing was [that] we did not design the app specifically [for] LGBTQ teens. We knew we wanted to be inclusive, be body positive, and all kinds of things just based on our own values as people and as an organization. But to see that there was pretty organic, high levels of engagement among LGBTQ teens was also very surprising and something that we have decided to just lean into at this point.
6. This has been great! Is there anything else you want to share?
We really want Real Talk to be a space where teens [can] come as they are.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you’re experiencing--this is a place where we can share those stories and then also find some support for it.
We really welcome anyone and everyone. Whatever people are going through, this is a place where we want them to feel safe to share and to see what other people are experiencing.
We’re currently only available on iOS but within the next couple of months, we will be launching on Android. So now basically anyone with any kind of mobile device will be able to use Real Talk and we’re very excited about that!