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Abstinence May Not Be Best Solution for Sheltering Teens from Online Risks

Abstinence May Not Be Best Solution for Sheltering Teens from Online Risks

Allowing a teen to gradually develop their own coping strategies for online risks appears to be a better parenting strategy than strictly forbidding internet use.

The finding comes from a two-month study in which researchers monitored web-based diaries of a group of 68 teen internet users. During this time frame the teens reported they encountered 207 risky events, including sexual solicitations and online harassment, said Pamela Wisniewski, an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Central Florida.

Wisniewski led the research while a post-doctoral scholar in information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State.

She discovered that despite the abundance of threats, in many cases, teens 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 teens 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,” said Wisniewski.

Teens, 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 teens see them as par-for-the-course experiences,” said Wisniewski.

In other words, the online risks were viewed as routine encounters by the digitally savvy teens.

Accordingly, the researchers suggest that teens 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.

Parents and caretakers can act as guides in the process.

“In the past, we tended to focus on the higher risk events, not the medium risk events, but I think there’s a missed opportunity for learning some of the coping strategies that teens use in lower risk situations,” said Wisniewski.

“So, if they are exposed to a higher risk event, they may be able to exercise some of the skills they already learned.”

She added that avoiding the internet is not a realistic option for most teens. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 92 percent of teens have access to the internet daily and 89 percent have at least one active social media account.

In the study, researchers recruited 68 teens, ages 13- to 17-years old, to enter first-hand accounts of their online experiences in a web-based diary.

The experiences were divided into four risk categories: information breaches, online harassment, sexual solicitations, and exposure to explicit content.

Of the 207 events the teens entered into their diaries as risky encounters, there were 119 reports of exposure to explicit content, 31 information breaches, 29 sexual solicitations, and 28 incidents of online harassment.

Researchers presented their findings at the at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Source: Pennsylvania State

Abstinence May Not Be Best Solution for Sheltering Teens from Online Risks

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Abstinence May Not Be Best Solution for Sheltering Teens from Online Risks. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 13 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.