Not My Teen: Kindness & Cruelty Between Teens Online

By Stop Medicine Abuse Posted November 17, 2014 under Not My Teen

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the relationship between teens, kindness and cruelty on social networking sites.

Teens are more engaged online today than ever before. Most teens use multiple platforms each day to connect and share personal moments with each other. Unfortunately, some teens also use online spaces to attack and abuse their peers. 

In a Pew Research survey on teens’ experiences of online cruelty, researchers asked teens about their experiences with negative interactions on social networks. Most teens (69%) reported that their peers were typically kind online, but an even higher number (88%) reported that they have witnessed cruelty on social networks. As for experiencing the cruelty first hand, 15% of teens surveyed reported being the victim of online abuse.

When asked how they respond to mean online behavior, most teens (90%) reported that they tend to ignore the situation as bystanders, but many (84%) have also noticed others defending the victim. Two-thirds of teens have seen their peers joining in the abuse and one-fifth admitted to participating in the harassment of another teen themselves.

The survey also revealed that most teens (86%) rely on their parents for guidance on safe and responsible internet use. A much smaller percentage of teens (18%) named their friends as primary influences on their internet or phone use. When asked if they sought out advice specifically for how to cope with or respond to online cruelty, 53% of teens reported reaching out to a friend or a peer, while 36% reported reaching out to their parents.

To regulate privacy, most teens (62%) reported that they set their privacy settings so that only their friends could see their content. Additionally, 55% of teens shared that they have decided not to post something online as they were worried that it might reflect poorly on them in the future. Unsurprisingly, college-aged or job-seeking teens reported the highest levels of digital withholding. However, while the survey showed that teens do consider their online privacy to a degree, it also revealed that a significant number of teens compromise it by lying about their age to gain access to websites or online accounts (44%) and sharing their passwords with friends (30%).

Responses from parents revealed that most have discussed online safety and the dangers of risky online behavior with their teens. A majority of parents also reported closely monitoring their teens’ online activities through the use of parental controls and filters, as well as by checking their teens’ social network profiles.

As parents, it is important for us to be aware of the dangers associated with risky online behaviors, such as cyberbullying. We also need to remember that these behaviors are not limited to social networks alone, but can take place through emails, text messages and on other websites. Talk to your teen about the risks associated with online cruelty to help make sure he or she doesn’t fall victim to an online attack or join in on the harassment of others.