Washington | Parents, take note! The online world may be full of risky situations for teens, but allowing them to gradually build their own coping strategies may be a better strategy than forbidding internet use, scientists say.
For the two-month study, researchers recruited 68 teens, ages 13- to 17- years old, to enter first-hand accounts of their online experiences in a web-based diary. The experiences were divided into four risk categories information breaches, online harassment, sexual solicitations and exposure to explicit content, researchers said.
The teens reported that they encountered 207 risky events – 119 reports of exposure to explicit content, 31 information breaches, 29 sexual solicitations and 28 incidents of online harassment, they said. However, in many cases, teens were able to resolve the issues on their own.
While the media may continue to focus on cases of online risk that had tragic consequences, the diary entries showed that many teens routinely handle some risky situations on their own. Focusing on the more positive interactions dealing with online risk flips this debate on its head and turns the conversation from one of parents trying to keep their teens safe to maybe there is more we can do to teach teens how to keep themselves safe, said Pamela Wisniewski, formerly from Pennsylvania State University in the US.
Teens, in fact, did not see much of a difference between online risks and the risks they encounter in real-life social settings, said Wisniewski, who now works at the University of Central Florida.As adults we see these online situations as problems, as negative risk experiences, but teens see them as par-for-the-course experiences, she added.
Researchers suggest that teens may be better off gradually acclimating to online risk and building resilience by overcoming lower risk situations, rather than avoiding exposure to risks, which is a more commonly recommended tactic today. Parents and caretakers can act as guides in the process, researchers said.
In the past, we tended to focus on the higher risk events, not the medium risk events, but I think there is a missed opportunity for learning some of the coping strategies that teens use in lower risk situations, said Wisniewski.
So, if they are exposed to a higher risk event, they may be able to exercise some of the skills they already learned, she said. Avoiding the internet is not a realistic option for most teens. According to a 2015 Pew Research Centre survey, 92 per cent of teens have access to the internet daily and 89 per cent have at least one active social media account, researchers said.
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