The ups and downs of social networks – new research.

Trimpers Cobra Roll by Scott Ableman/

The Pew Research Center, as part of their ongoing Internet and American Life project, have just released a report called Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. As the title implies, the latest research provides us insight into the widely varying experiences that teens have when participating in social networks ranging from very positive to horribly cruel and everywhere in between.

The main aim of the survey was, as stated by the report:

As they navigate challenging social interactions online, who is influencing their sense of what it means to be a good or bad “digital citizen”? How often do they intervene to stand up for others? How often do they join in the mean behavior?

The results where compiled from 799 12-17 year-olds living in the United States. Though I believe there would be some differences in our population of students at UWCSEA, I do expect the major trends to be similar.  95% of the respondents reported being online and 80% of that group participate in social networks, the most dominant of those, of course, is Facebook (93%).

69% of social media-using teens report that their interactions are mostly kind.  They reported that social networks make them feel closer to people they interact with and make them feel better about themselves.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of bad experiences reported by the teens in the survey. 88% report witnessing cruel or mean behavior, though mostly they say it only happens “only once in a while.” One in five teens say they themselves were bullied within the last 12 months, though this language has questionable meaning with teens who often refer to this kind of behavior as “drama.”  Most commonly, the bullying happened in person and to a lesser extent in other ways including (in order greatest to least) via text message, online, or by phone.

If teens experience meanness, cruelty, or bullying online, we suggest they:

  1. Don’t respond.
  2. Save evidence by taking a screen shot.
  3. Block the person and report them for abuse to the service provider.
  4. Tell a trusted adult (parent, teacher, counselor, tutor, etc.)

A bigger problem is that only about 1/3 of students who say the witness cruel or mean behavior online ever seek advice on how to respond to it.  This problem of standing by and watching rather than doing something about it is an obvious target of our attention and education efforts.  We like to use the phrase “stand up, don’t stand by” when speaking to students about how they can actually get involved.

Returning to the original question about who is influencing the behavior of teens online, the respondents point first to parents followed by teachers as being influential sources of information on digital citizenship.  We are the people they look to above other sources to learn how to behave appropriately and for advice when they have negative experiences.

Here are some resources that can help guide those conversation: 

What has worked for you and your family?

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