Research Brief: Teens and “Digital Citizenship”

Teens and “Digital Citizenship”

A recent report conducted by the Pew Research Center, in partnership with the Family Online Safety Institute, and supported by Cable in the Classroom, found that most American teens who use social media say that in their experience, people their age are mostly kind to one another on social network sites.

95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites. Many log on daily to their social network pages and these have become spaces where much of the social activity of teen life is echoed and amplified in both good and bad ways.

Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that “it depends.”

In a similar question asked of adults 18 and older, 85% of social media-using adults reported that people are mostly kind to one another on social network sites, while just 5% felt that people are mostly unkind.

With the impact of current awareness of bullying, this research focuses on social network sites to understand the types of experiences teens are having there and how they are addressing negative behavior when they see or experience it. As teens navigate challenging social interactions online, the study focuses on who it is that influences their sense of what it means to be a good or bad “digital citizen,” how often do they intervene to stand up for others, and how often do they join in the mean behavior.

Among social media users, 88% of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social network site. Asked, “When you’re on a social networking site, how often do you see people being mean or cruel?” teens who use social network sites say the following about how frequently they witnessed such behavior:

  • 12% say they witnessed cruel behavior “frequently”
  • 29% say they saw meanness on social network sites “sometimes”
  • 47% say they saw such behavior “only once in a while”

Adults are less likely to say they have seen meanness on social media, with 69% of adult social media users saying they have seen people being mean and cruel to others on social network sites.

  • 7% of adult social media users witness meanness or cruelty “frequently” on the sites
  • 18% say they saw meanness on social network sites “sometimes”
  • 44% say they saw such behavior “only once in a while”

15% of teen social media users have experienced such harassment themselves in the past 12 months, while 85% of them have not. 13% of social media-using adults 18 and older report that someone had been mean or cruel to them on a social network in the last 12 months.

Among the social network site-using teens who have experienced cruelty or mean behavior on social network sites, there are no statistically significant differences by age, gender, race, or socio-economic status. Mean or cruel behaviors are equally as likely to be older teens or younger teens, girls or boys, and youth from higher-income families or those from lower-income families.

With regard to experiences and interactions media-using teens may have had with other people on social network sites, 78% of teens report at least one positive outcome from their interactions on social network sites.

  • 65% of social media-using teens have had an experience on a social network site that made them feel good about themselves
  • 58% of social media-using teens have felt closer to another person because of an experience on a social network site

A substantial number of teens report specific negative outcomes from experiences on social network sites, with 41% of teens saying they have experienced at least one of the negative outcomes asked about:

  • 25% of social media teens have had an experience on a social network site that resulted in a face-to-face argument or confrontation with someone
  • 22% have had an experience that ended their friendship with someone
  • 13% have had an experience that caused a problem with their parents
  • 13% have felt nervous about going to school the next day
  • 8% have gotten into a physical fight with someone else because of something that happened on a social network site
  • 6% have gotten in trouble at school because of an experience on a social network site

19% of all teens report that they have been bullied in the last 12 months in at least one of the four scenarios considered. Half of bullied teens say they were bullied in multiple ways.

  • 12% of all teens report being bullied in person in the last 12 months
  • 9% of all teens have been bullied via text message in the last 12 months
  • 8% say they have experienced some form of online bullying, such as through email, a social network site or instant messaging
  • 7% say they have been bullied by voice calls over the phone
  • Girls are much more likely than boys to report they had been bullied in various ways, except in-person bullying, which happened to boys and girls in roughly equal proportion

Social media-using teens who have witnessed online cruelty say that people most often appear to ignore the situation, with a slightly smaller number of teens saying they also see others defending someone and telling others to stop their cruel behavior.

  • 95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on the sites say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior; 55% witness this frequently
  • 84% have seen people defend the person being harassed, with 27% seeing this frequently
  • 84% have seen others tell someone to stop; 20% report seeing this frequently

When asked about their own behavior, social media-using teens are most likely to say they ignore the behavior themselves, though others defend the victim and tell people to stop.

  • 90% of social media-using teens who have witnessed online cruelty say they have ignored mean behavior on social media, and 35% have done this frequently
  • 80% say they have defended the victim; 25% have done so frequently
  • 79% have told the other person to stop being mean and cruel; 20% have done so frequently

Despite the high likelihood of teens seeing bystanders responding positively by standing up for or defending the attacked individual, they are also likely to witness others joining in the mean behavior.

  • 67% of social media-using teens have witnessed others joining in the harassment they have seen. Teens are more likely to say they see joining in “once in a while” (24%) or “sometimes” (23%), than they are to report seeing it frequently (19%)
  • 21% of social media-using teens who have witnessed online cruelty say they have joined in. 12% of these teens say they have joined in the mean behavior only “once in a while,” 7% say “sometimes” and 2% say they have done it “frequently.”

In response, notes the study, parents are using hardware and software-based tools to monitor their teens’ online activities or block them from accessing certain content. 54% of parents say they use parental controls or other means of filtering or monitoring their child’s computer-based online activities, while 39% of online teens report that their parents use this type of software or feature in a browser or operating system to manage their teen’s computer-based internet experience.

Given that so many mobile phones now incorporate easy internet access, and because of the ways that information in the form of text, photos, or videos can be recorded and shared with others on phones, companies have responded to parent and policy maker requests for parental controls for phones on family plans.

Teens and parents report that parents are taking advantage of these controls for cell phones, with 34% of parents reporting use of parental controls to restrict mobile phone use and 19% of teens reporting their parents’ use of the tools. Two percent of teens do not know if their parents use the controls. Parents of younger teenage boys (those ages 12-13) are the most likely to have restricted their teen’s cell use.

According to a another recent study, the bulk of the parents who do not use parental controls report that they feel they are unnecessary, either because of rules already in place, or because they trust their child to be safe.

The data discussed in this report are the result of a three-part, multi-modal study that included interviews with experts, seven focus groups with middle and high school students, and a nationally representative random-digit-dial telephone survey of teens and parents. The margin of error for the full sample is ±5 percentage points.

To review a short summary, and access to the complete study in PDF format, please visit Pew here.

This entry was posted in Articles. Bookmark the permalink.