Nearly 74% of teenagers across the world have reported experiencing an online risk, while only 62% of parents thought their teen had encountered a risk online – a difference of 12%. This is just one of the worrying statistics Microsoft found, in their survey associated on International Safer Internet Day.
The most widespread risks globally are misinformation/disinformation and personal risks such as cyberbullying, hate speech, and threats of violence.
The UK (50%) and Germany (56%) had the lowest rates of online risk while the Philippines (86%) and Chile (79%) had the highest.
The group that was the most impressionable, most vulnerable, and the one faced the worst instances were, unsurprisingly, teenagers!
Parents, teenagers, and security perspective mismatch
Parents underestimated the risks in every category, with the biggest gaps seen in hate speech, followed by threats of violence, exposure to suicide and self-harm content, and cyberbullying and abuse, the survey found.
“For example, 39% of teens reported experiencing hate speech online while only 29% of parents reported their teenager having such an experience. Some 19% of teenagers experienced a threat of violence while only 11% of parents reported the same,” said the report.
When teenagers experience an online risk, 60% of them talk to someone about it. Of those, 71% talked to their parents, 32% talked to friends, and 14% talked to an adult who wasn’t their parent.
Parents use safety tools because they believe they keep their children safer online. This year’s research showed that 81% of parents take action to keep their children safe online, including checking their child’s profiles and posts, receiving activity reports, and regularly talking to their children about their online activities.
Most parents view safety features as effective tools, with the parents of younger children (ages 6-12) using 4.4 tools compared to 3.5 for parents of teenagers. Parents believe that tools that allow them to review friend/follow requests (71%) and limit online spending (69%) are the most effective.
The quickest perceived redressal for the problems is legal. However, framing laws on the issue is often like addressing a multi-focused, ever-evolving problem with a one-size-fits-all solution. More importantly, how do we impose regulations without being restrictive?
Teenagers on internet: Regulation vs Restriction
Child protection laws typically have a paternalistic approach, pointed out an London School of Economics analysis of the proposed online safety laws in Singapore.
Minors are perceived as naïve, short-sighted and more susceptible to online dangers compared to adults, resulting in regulations that dictate what is considered “safe” for them on the Internet and restrict their usage, said the LSE study.
According to the report, Singapore’s proposed online safety laws aim to protect young users from harmful online content, but they may also be seen as paternalistic and disconnected from young people’s actual experiences.
If young people are not involved in the decision-making processes to improve online experiences, they may see these regulations as disconnected and authoritarian restrictions on their social media use and respond by accessing such content unlawfully, possibly via alternative channels, to satisfy their curiosities,” said the report.
Moreover, the laws give the government the power to block access to certain content, but they fail to address other online harms such as privacy intrusions.
Regulations need to balance protection with promoting autonomy and capacity building in young people. This can be achieved by involving them in the decision-making process and considering their desires for independence, said the report.
“There are a variety of approaches to engaging with teenagers on the topic of online safety,” said a Pew Research Center study.
Safer Internet and Teenagers: Role of parents
Parents can have open and honest discussions with their teenagers regarding safe and dangerous online behavior and what is acceptable or not. They can answer any questions the teens may have and offer guidance as needed.
Additionally, parents can also actively monitor their teen’s online activities through simple methods such as checking the websites visited, viewing their social media profiles, or adding them as a friend on a social networking site.
“This monitoring might also include use of parental controls on the computer or cell phone that a teen uses,” said the study.