The online world is full of risky situations for teenagers, but allowing them to gradually build their own coping strategies may be a better parental route than forbidding internet use, researchers say.
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Avoiding the internet is not a realistic option for most teenagers, said Pamela Wisniewski, assistant professor in computer science at University of Central Florida in the US.
The researchers recruited 68 teenagers, aged 13- to 17-years old, to enter first-hand accounts of their online experiences in a web-based diary.
During the two-month study, the teenagers reported they encountered 207 risky events, including sexual solicitations and online harassment, Wisniewski noted.
However, in many cases, the teenagers were able to resolve the issues on their own.
While the media may continue to focus on cases of online risk that had tragic consequences, the diary entries showed that many teenagers routinely handle some risky situations on their own.
"Focusing on the more positive interactions dealing with online risk flips this debate on its head and turns the conversation from one of parents trying to keep their teens safe to maybe there's more we can do to teach teens how to keep themselves safe," Wisniewski said.
Teenagers, in fact, did not see much of a difference between online risks and the risks they encounter in real-life social settings, she added.
"As adults we see these online situations as problems, as negative risk experiences, but teenagers see them as par-for-the-course experiences," Wisniewski said.
The researchers suggest that teenagers may be better off gradually acclimating to online risk and building resilience by overcoming lower risk situations, rather than avoiding exposure to risks, which is a more commonly recommended tactic today.
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Parents and caretakers can act as guides in the process. The findings were presented Association for Computing Machinery's conference on human factors in computing in San Jose, California.