Good Digital Parenting
Blog | Jan. 28, 2014

Raising Children with a Balanced Approach to Online Safety [New Study]

Post Doctoral Scholar, Pennsylvania State University’s College of Information Sciences and Technology

At Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, our research is geared toward helping parents find a balance between protecting teens and allowing teens to learn how to protect themselves online. We are currently recruiting parent and teen (ages 13-17) pairs for an online diary study to understand the different strategies parents and teens use for handling online risks. Are parents proactively talking to their teens about online risks? Do parents restrict online access if something bad happens? Do teens even tell their parents when they have a negative online experience? Do teens take measures to protect themselves online? The short answer is that we don’t know, but we would like to find out – and, you can help.

If you are part of an organization that has access to parents and teens (such as a school, non-profit organization, or other community organization), and you would like to help us recruit participants for this study, please contact me at pamwis@ist.psu.edu. I will respond personally to let you know how you can participate or help get the word out.

You may ask why I became interested in researching adolescent online safety. Well, when I was a teen (back in the 1990’s), kids didn’t socialize through email, Facebook, text messaging, or Snapchat. So, when I got grounded, that meant no television, Nintendo games, sleepovers at my best friend’s house, or calling my friends on our family’s landline. Today, however, being grounded for a teen often means no Hulu, multi-player video games, Internet, iPad, or cell phone. You see, parents realize that one of the most effective ways to punish teens is to limit access to their friends because teenagers are intensely social beings. And, these days, most teens are connected to their friends via the Internet. In fact, recent studies suggest that 93% of teens are online (1).

However, what happens when some parents become overly restrictive of their teen’s online access (no Facebook, no email, and no cell phone – the Horror!) because they are scared that their teen is at risk of getting hurt online? Unfortunately, online dangers are a real concern. For example, 1 in every 3 teens has experienced online harassment (2), and nearly 1 in 7 teens have received a sexual solicitation online (3). Either because parents are acutely aware of these risks or because they aren't as tech savvy as they would like to be, some choose to protect their teens by limiting access. Yet, the double-edged sword is that while parents are simply trying to protect their children, teens often feel like they are being punished. Being connected online is now a major part of growing up and taking that away from them is no trivial matter.

Parents who are either too restrictive or too permissive about what their teens do online may be missing important teaching opportunities for helping their teens become good digital citizens. After all, we can’t pretend that the Internet doesn’t exist or that it’s going away. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with life’s challenges in healthy ways. While the online world presents a number of challenges, it also provides numerous opportunities for teens to learn new information and connect with others – experiences that become invaluable as they mature into young adults. Therefore, part of our goal is to understand how teens and their parents navigate the various challenges teens face online so that teens can stay connected without being in harm’s way.

  1.  http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx 
  2. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2007/Cyberbullying.aspx
  3.  http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/1in7Youth.pdf
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.