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On Social Media, Teens Take Risks First, Seek Help Later

On Social Media, Teens Take Risks First, Seek Help Later

Teens tend to approach privacy on social media in a significantly different way than adults, according to a new study. While most adults think first and then ask questions, teens tend to take the risk and then seek help.

Teens are typically exposed to greater online risks because they are using social media as a platform for self-expression and acceptance. They may disclose important contact information or photographs with strangers, for example.

“Adults don’t know how big of a deal this is for teens,” said Haiyan Jia, post-doctoral scholar in information sciences and technology.

“Before I worked on these papers, I was drawn to the issue because I heard about so many tragedies of teens who were exploring their identities online and that led them to very risky situations, often with terrible consequences.”

“Adults often find this very difficult to understand and paradoxical because they are so used to considering possible risks of disclosing information online first and then taking the necessary precautions, based on those concerns,” said Jia.

“What our model suggests is that teens don’t think this way — they disclose and then evaluate the consequences. The process is more experiential in nature for teens.”

The findings offer insight into what researchers call the ‘privacy paradox,’ notes Pamela Wisniewski, a post-doctoral scholar in information sciences and technology, who worked with Jia. She adds that the privacy paradox suggests that there is a disconnect between the privacy concerns of teens and what information they disclose.

“For adults, the basic model is that different factors contribute to an individual’s concern for his or her information privacy and based on that privacy concern the user takes certain actions, for example, disclosing less information,” said Wisniewski. “This is a very rational, adult-focused model, however, that doesn’t seem applicable to teens.”

When teens are faced with privacy concerns, they often try to find possible protective actions to diminish risk, according to the researchers. This includes seeking advice from adults, removing online information, or going offline completely.

A parent’s first impulse may be to take away access to the Internet or social media, but completely avoiding risks may cause other problems, said the researchers.

“First, I can’t imagine a teen growing up and avoiding the Internet and online communications in this age,” said Jia.

“But there’s also a danger that without taking on the minimum risks, teens will not have access to all the positive benefits the Internet can provide, nor will they learn how to manage risk and how to safely navigate this online world.”

Jia uses the concept of swimming lessons as the best model for parents who want to encourage their teens to use the Internet and social media safely. “It’s a lot like learning to swim,” Jia said.

“You make sure they enter the water slowly and make sure they know how to swim before you let them swim on their own and in the deeper parts.”

For the study, the researchers looked at data from the Pew Research Center’s 2012 Teens and Privacy Management Survey. The survey gathered information on social media behaviors from 588 teens in the United States, most of whom were active users of sites such as Facebook.

The researchers presented their findings at the Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing conference.

Source: Pennsylvania State

On Social Media, Teens Take Risks First, Seek Help Later

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). On Social Media, Teens Take Risks First, Seek Help Later. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 18 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.