Making news this week is a recently-released Pew study that reports teen trends and attitudes on social media sites. The study, entitled “Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites,” is a collection of interviews with 799 teens aged 12-17 and includes results from focus groups and phone surveys. Primary findings show that 95% of all teens access the internet regularly and 77% of them are active on social media sites. These numbers aren’t necessarily surprising – we all know how many teens are active online and how much time they spend interacting with friends, classmates, peers and other contacts on social networks like Facebook and Google+. But what is surprising is that 88% of teens have witnessed mean or cruel behavior online; 80% have personally defended a victim of cyberbullying and 15% have been a target themselves of online meanness.
When asked to describe how people act online, teens “overwhelmingly chose negative adjectives,” including words like rude, fake and disrespectful, as seen in the word cloud above. However, despite the disparaging descriptions and the nearly 9 out of 10 teens who have witnessed online cruelty, 69% of teens said they found social networks to be “mostly kind” spaces. Additionally, more teens reported positive outcomes (78%) than negative outcomes (41%) when dealing with hostile or unpleasant online situations.
More positive results from the report show that almost 60% of teens cite their parents as the biggest influence they have when thinking about their behavior online. And 86% of teens said they have received advice from their parents about best practices for online safety, and 70% have received online safety advice at school from teachers and other school administrators.
This study shows that while there are still inevitably going to be inappropriate, negative and cruel online interactions and behaviors amongst teens, kids today generally have a good sense of what is right and wrong online and how they can best deal with potentially threatening cyber-situations. No matter how respectable, positive and appropriate a child is online, however, parents still have a responsibility to know what kinds of activities their kids are involved with and who they are interacting with. Monitoring kids, having ground rules for social media use and just having an open dialogue are various ways that parents can be active and make sure their kids are maintain safe digital citizenship and remain part of the 78% of teens who experience positive outcomes in online situations.
The full Pew report can be found here.