Equip teens to thwart online risks instead of stopping them from using Internet

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The best way to ensure that teens stay safe online is to enable them to cope with the risks rather than stopping them from using the internet, a new study has revealed.

More resilient teens were less likely to suffer negative effects even if they were frequently online, said the study.

Haiyan Jia, post-doctoral scholar in information sciences and technology.

“Internet exposure does not necessarily lead to negative effects, which means it’s okay to go online.

“But the key seems to be learning how to cope with the stress of the experience and knowing how to reduce the chances of being exposed to online risk,” said lead researcher Haiyan Jia from the Penn State University.

Previous research has advocated limiting online use as a way to minimise risks of privacy violations and traumatic online experiences, such as becoming the victim of cyber-bullying and viewing unwanted sexual materials.

However, with online technologies becoming more ubiquitous and a greater part of teens’ social and educational lives, abstinence may actually be less reliable and more harmful, the new study said.

“Not allowing teens to use the internet has its own risks. As much as there are negatives associated with online use, there are also a lot of benefits to using online technologies,” said co-researcher Pamela Wisniewski.

“Parents should be aware that restricting online use completely could hurt their children educationally and socially,” she added.

Teenagers who are exposed to minimal risks can, over time, develop coping strategies and be more resilient as new, more risky situations arise.

“For example, let’s say a teenage girl is surfing online and one of her online friends asks for a nude photo,” said Jia.

“If a teen doesn’t know how to deal with this, she might just succumb to the pressure and send the photo, and then suffer all kinds of stress and anxiety as a result.

“But if she builds up her resilience, she knows how to deal with the situation, she knows how to say no and prevent exposing herself to this risk,” Jia explained.

The study was presented at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea.