Four in 10 US teens seek help from friends about online woes, new Microsoft study shows

Four in 10 American teens say a friend sought help from them because of a negative experience they had online, results of a new Microsoft-sponsored study show. Most situations involved harassment or bullying, according to the teens, while a quarter of survey respondents said their friends had been threatened online.

Forty-one percent of teens say a friend sought guidance from them following a negative online interaction, down from 43 percent who said they were asked for advice in similar situations last year. Moreover, when looking for help with a negative online experience, teens say their friends are the most valuable resource. Nearly six in 10 (57 percent) say friends were the most helpful in such situations, while 42 percent say their parents were the most supportive resource.

Findings are from “Keeping Up with Generation App,” the latest in a series of research studies conducted or sponsored by Microsoft over the past two years and focused on “digital civility” – encouraging safer and healthier online interactions among people of all ages. The study was fielded last month by the Washington, D.C.-based National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and polled 813 teens in the U.S. and 809 parents of American teens.

“It’s not surprising that teens turn to friends for help. During adolescence, peer-to-peer relationships are critical,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, which sponsors National Cyber Security Awareness Month each October. “We need to build the capacity of teens to help each other and equip them with the knowledge and tools so they can give meaningful and accurate help to their friends. When we teach them to help others, we are also empowering them to be more resistant to and resilient from any issues they may encounter online.”

Here are some other highlights from this year’s research:

·        In general, teens say they spend more time online than they would like. Nearly three in 10 (28 percent) say they spend “too much” time online, while almost half (46 percent) say they spend “a little more time” online than they’d prefer.

·        Both teens and parents say disagreements about the amount of permitted screen time are the most frequent points of technology-related tension in their households; 22 percent of teens report frequent disagreements with parents about screen time, and 26 percent of parents say they regularly argue with their kids about the issue.

·        The privacy and security of their personal data remains paramount for teens when it comes to their top online safety concerns, but they share larger worries about the veracity of the information they encounter and share online. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) say they are “very concerned” that they could accidentally spread fake news or other misinformation, and another 25 percent say they are “somewhat concerned” about that possibility.

Microsoft sponsored this same study in 2016 where results indicated that nearly 40 percent of American teens said someone was mean or cruel to them online in the previous year. Negative comments most often stemmed from something the teens said or did, or were about their appearance, according to last year’s results.

On a positive note, those percentages fell this year. About a third (34 percent) of teens reported that someone had been mean or cruel to them when they were online or using cell phones over the past 12 months. But, once again, the content of those messages was most often about something the teen said or did (52 percent) or something about their appearance (35 percent). Race or ethnicity (27 percent), gender (21 percent) and political views (20 percent) were among the other sources of mean or cruel treatment.

To help guard against a range of these issues, Microsoft makes available a collection of resources at our website, www.microsoft.com/saferonline. For instance, we encourage parents and teachers to emphasize critical thinking among young people and to help them to identify misinformation and hate speech online. We also make available materials about responding to online bullying and harassment, as well as the risk of online grooming. Young people and teens themselves can benefit from these resources as well, especially since they’re being asked to assist friends in need.

As for more research, we will continue to release targeted results from our digital civility-based studies in the months leading up to international Safer Internet Day 2018. Early findings show the newer concept of digital civility is resonating across the world, with a number of age demographics and geographies embracing the concept. Full results of our latest 23-country study will be released on Safer Internet Day 2018 on February 6.

Learn more about online safety at our YouthSpark website and check out even more resources here. You can also “like” us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and take our Digital Civility Challenge using #challenge4civility or #Im4digitalcivility.

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