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Helping Teens Navigate Social Media

November 16, 2011

Last week brought a closer look at the actual online behavior of kids with the release of the new Pew Report, “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites.” The in-depth study examines teens’ use of social network sites, their experiences and behaviors on the sites, their privacy and safety concerns, and the role of parents in digital safekeeping.

The study was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in partnership with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) and with the support of Cable in the Classroom.

The cable industry’s education foundation, Cable in the Classroom, has a long history of providing educators with tools and resources that help them do their job better. CIC has been an advocate within the education community and elsewhere for “digital citizenship,” which is a holistic approach to helping children learn how to be both safe and smart participants in a digital world.  This means helping kids understand their rights and responsibilities, recognize benefits and risks, and realize the personal and ethical implications of their online actions.

This new research, with its insights into how kids learn online behavior, how they navigate and behave in the online world and who they turn to for advice and guidance, can help determine the most useful and relevant approaches to take, as the online safety community considers and designs tools, resources, and policies to help keep kids safe online.

It’s no surprise that social media use is widespread among teens: Fully 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 77% are users of social media sites. For the most part, these kids have positive experiences online and in social networks.

The study found that some 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. While, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, 47% say they saw such behavior “only once in a while” and only 12% say they witnessed cruel behavior “frequently.”

Adult social network users are less likely to say they witness or experience this type of behavior, but they still report that it is prevalent: 69% of the adults who use social networking sites say they have seen people be mean and cruel to others on those sites.

Kids are mostly acting responsibly while online. While 19% have been bullied, around 80% have taken some action to support the target or get the bully to stop. Most kids (55%) have refrained from posting something because it might reflect unfavorably on them in the future.  Four of five kids are using some privacy controls on their profiles.

As they try to navigate difficult social environments, virtually all teens say they receive advice about online safety from a wide variety of people in their lives. Parents are the top source: 86% of teens say they received advice from their parents about how to use the internet safely and responsibly and 70% received advice from teachers and schools. Teens reported that parents were also the biggest influence on shaping what they think is appropriate or inappropriate behavior when going online or using a cell phone. At the same time, 18% of teens say that “no one” influences them about their attitudes towards online behavior.

This is an important point. Even though your kids might not act like they’re listening, they will take it to heart if you can provide them with proper tips. There are some great opportunities for parents and teachers to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to offer useful and effective advice when called on.

Broadband can be a powerful tool. But all tools need some instruction to be used wisely. We’ll continue to promote the use of cable content and technology to expand and enhance learning for children and youth nationwide, but we’ll also continue to promote safety tips and education on how best to do so.