As a lawyer and parent, I have had to deal with teenagers on the internet. One of the most difficult things I have found as a parent is to understand how my children relate to the social media on the Internet. Unlike my children, I did not grow up with the internet so find the internet to be foreign soil. An estimated 92% of teenagers go online daily, and nearly a quarter report being online “almost constantly” according to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center.
With more teenagers owning smartphones each year, these numbers continue to rise, and teenagers–especially girls–are engaging with social media at younger ages. This trend has led to an increase in incidences in which social relationships play out online rather than in person. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Youth Studies entitled, “It’s just drama’: teen perspectives on conflict and aggression in a networked era,” http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13676261.2014.901493 found that this phenomenon has driven teens to redefine what they consider interpersonal “drama.” This term is now often used to refer to relationship conflict that takes place on a social media stage.
Therefore, parents may find a 2015 study, “How to Cope With Digital Stress: The Recommendations Adolescents Offer Their Peers Online,” http://jar.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/06/18/0743558415587326.abstract to be very helpful. This study examines comment threads shared among adolescent peers to better understand how young people advise each other when it comes to online bullying. The authors identified six major digital stressors:
- Public shaming and humiliation
- Impersonation (Using digital platforms to pretend to be another person usually “for the purpose of slandering, mocking or embarrassing the impersonated.”)
- Mean and harassing personal attacks
- Breaking and entering (Using another person’s online account or digital devices without permission.)
- Pressure to comply (Experiencing pressure “to grant access to accounts or nude photographs.”)
- Smothering (Excessive contact via online messaging in which “the content of messages is not intended to hurt nor harm, but the quantity is itself problematic.”)
The study’s findings include:
- The authors identified five common types of recommendation patterns: get help from others; communicate directly; cut ties with the person involved; ignore the situation; use digital solutions.
- A total of 17.9 percent of recommendations involve getting help from others in some way.
- Almost half of all recommendations to get help from others specify contacting a lawyer or law enforcement authority such as the police. These recommendations are particularly common in situations dealing with threats to disseminate nude photographs. Parents and other adults are less commonly recommended, with school officials and peers being least recommended.
- Communicating directly, or confronting and speaking to the person or persons involved, comprises 21.3 percent of total recommendations, and is the most commonly offered advice in situations of breaking and entering.
- Cutting ties comprises 20 percent of all recommendations, and is the most common strategy recommended for smothering.
- Almost all (94.7 percent) of all recommendations to cut ties are made for situations involving a romantic relationship. And, the recommendation is typically to end the relationship.
- Ignoring or avoiding the situation is recommended in 23.4 percent of recommendations, and is the most common recommendation in response to stories about feeling pressure to comply.
- Utilizing digital solutions, particularly by using digital relationship management tools such as “blocking,” comprises 7.2 percent of all recommendations. These digital solutions are the most common recommendation for adolescents dealing with impersonation.
The authors note a few limitations of the study. In particular, they caution that, due to the nature of the information available, they could not look for differences in recommendations according to age or gender of the recommender. In addition, they note that examining the recommendations that teens give one another does not necessarily represent how the teens themselves cope when faced with similar situations of cyberbullying or online harassment. Fortunately, however, this study seems to support what, in the words of Emily Weinstein, a doctoral student at Harvard School of Education, has said, “although young people are operating in a digital context, many of the skills they need aren’t new.”