Researchers: Forget Internet Abstinence; Teens Need some Online Risk — THE Journal


Mal Lee

> Researchers: Forget Internet Abstinence; Teens Need some Online Risk
> Research
> By Dian Schaffhauser
> 05/16/16
> If adults want to help teenagers learn how to handle the big risks of Internet usage, the best thing they can do is to let them get used to handling smaller risks situations. That’s the conclusion from a Pennsylvania State University research project that examined adolescent online safety. This approach includes an important role for teachers as “trusted confidantes” and “educated advisors.”
> In the study, researchers worked with teens who spent two months reflecting on their weekly online experiences. The teens were asked to keep an online diary to report on four broad types of online risks:
> Information breaches, in which personal information or photos were shared or used online without teens’ permission or were shared by the teen and later regretted;
> Online harassment, including cyberbullying and other online interactions that made the recipients feel threatened, embarrassed or unsafe;
> Sexual solicitations, including “sexting” or any requests received by a stranger, acquaintance or friend that was sexual in nature; and
> Exposure to explicit content, including voluntary or accidental viewing of pornographic or extremely violent or other disturbing material.
> When teens reported one of the risk types in their diaries, they were given five follow-up questions to answer:
> What happened?
> Did you intend for this event to happen?
> How did it make you feel?
> What actions did you take when this happened, and did those actions help?
> Do you feel like this was resolved? If so, how?
> Because the teens were minors, the researchers obtained parental consent, and the parents were also asked to report their own perceptions of risks experienced by their teens each week. There was no requirement that parents and teens discuss their respective diary entries with each other. Both groups were notified that if an imminent risk or a situation of potential child abuse arose, the researchers would report that to appropriate authorities. That ended up not being necessary for the most part, because parents or other authorities were already aware of the high-risk situations.
> The results, “Dear Diary: Teens Reflect on Their Weekly Online Risk Experiences ,” were published by the Association for Computing Machinery and presented at the organization’s recent Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems .
> The respondents in the project were “incentivized” to participate with gift cards to Amazon and Walmart. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) were recruited from Pennsylvania; however, people from 12 other states also participated.
> Of those 95 parent-teen pairs who initially registered for the study, 68 did enough of the diary reporting to be included in the analysis. Among those teens, 82 percent reported at least one “risk event.” On average they reported about three risk events during the study; the range was from zero to 15. The most common type — reported by 74 percent of participants — was exposure to explicit content, which in two-thirds of the incidents occurred accidentally. Fifteen percent reported online harassment, 24 percent information breaches and 28 percent at least one sexual solicitation.
> The most troublesome incident involved a 14-year-old girl who had sent a boy a naked picture of herself at his request; he shared it with others at her school; as a result she was harassed online and expressed suicidal thoughts, according to the researchers. In that instance the researchers immediately notified the parent.
> The teen participants seemed to cope with their online problems fairly well by ignoring the content (40 percent of the time) or leaving the site, confronting the offender or fixing it themselves (47 percent). They were most likely to communicate with someone else regarding an online harassment incident and least likely to communicate about exposure to explicit content. For online harassment, specifically, 77 percent of the reports said that teens told their mothers, 11 percent told their best friends, and 11 percent reported it to the social media website. Nearly half of the reports (49 percent) were considered resolved by the time the teen recorded their diary entries; 17 percent were considered “so insignificant” to the teens that they felt no resolution was required.

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