Teen Behavior On Social Networks
November 9, 2011

Teen Behavior On Social Networks

A majority of teenagers who use social networking sites say their online peers are mostly kind to one another online, but 88 percent still say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel as well, according to a new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Family Online Safety Institute, and Cable in the Classroom.

With 95 percent of all teenagers 12 to 17 years old now online, and 80 percent being users of online social networks, many logging on daily, the Internet has become a place where most of a teen's social life takes place and where much of their social activity is echoed and amplified -- in both good and bad ways.

Fifteen percent of teens say they have been the target of bad behavior on social media sites, according to the survey.

The report, called “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of ℠digital citizenship´,” got its findings based on seven focus groups with teens and a survey of 799 teens 12 to 17 years old and their parents.

The study found that when it comes to bad conduct online, 80 percent of teen social media users say they have defended a victim of online cruelty and 79 percent have told someone to stop their cruel behavior on a social network site. Twenty-one percent of the teens surveyed said they actually joined in on the harassment.

“Social networking sites have created new spaces for teens to interact, and they witness a mixture of altruism and cruelty,” said Amanda Lenhart, the study´s lead author. “For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces. But the majority have also seen a darker side.”

The study also found that one in 4 teens “have had an experience on a social network site that resulted in a face-to-face argument or confrontation with someone.” More than one in ten (13 percent) “have felt nervous about going to school the next day” after a social networking encounter. And 22 percent of teens say they have had an online experience “that ended their friendship with someone.”

Eight percent of teens surveyed said they got into a physical altercation with someone else due to something that occurred on a social networking site, and another six percent said they got in trouble at school because of such an experience.

Teens said they have received advice about online safety from various sources. Parents were the main advice givers, with 86 percent of teens saying they received advice from their parents about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly. Seven in ten said they received advice from a teacher or other adult at school.

“A Facebook profile can be the site of a budding romance or the staging ground for conflict,” the survey observes. “In the past, mediated interactions might have taken place via paper letter or set of wires and a phone between the conversing partners. Now, all internet users have access to a broader digital audience. And in this new environment, social norms of behavior and etiquette are still being formed.”

The report also noted that 15 percent of teens have been “bullied” by way of text messages (9 percent), online (8 percent), or by phone call (7 percent).

The study found that teens are four times more likely to experience social networks as “mostly unkind” than adults. And younger teenage girls between 12 and 13 are significantly more likely than anyone else to experience “mostly unkind” social networking environments. About 33 percent of younger teenage girls said that “people their age are mostly unkind to one another on social network sites.” And one in five older girls offered the same impression. With boys ages 12 to 13, only nine percent reported social networking in mostly unkind terms.

The Pew report also found, via “word clouds,” what negative adjectives teens use to depict how their peers acted online.

“Words that appeared frequently included 'rude,' 'mean,' 'fake,' 'crude,' 'over-dramatic,' and 'disrespectful',” the report said. “Some teens did use positive words like the frequently mentioned 'funny' and the less common 'honest,' 'clever,' 'friendly,' 'entertaining,' and 'sweet,' but overall the frequency of positive words was substantially lower.”

So, the survey asks, how do we help kids who get caught in this social networking crossfire? The two most important resources could be peer and parents.

When it comes to parents, although there are various “parental control” products available, most prefer “less technical steps” for watching the online habits of their children. 77 percent of parents say they have checked a website that their child has visited. 66 percent say they have searched to see what kind of data showed up about their child.

“More than six in ten teens report that they know their parents have checked their social media profile, and 41 percent of parents of online teens have friended their child on a social network site,” the report found. But that doesn´t necessarily end trouble for the teen in question.

“Friending a teen on social media may have some protective effects, but it is not without its costs, too. Teens whose parents report that they are friends with their child on social network sites are more likely than teens who aren't friends with their parents to say that they had a problem with their parents because of an experience on social media,” noted the study.

Teens report that parents are also the biggest influence on shaping what they think is appropriate or inappropriate behavior when going online or using a cellphone. But also, 18 percent of teens say that no one has influenced them about their attitudes toward online behavior.


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