How to Make the Internet Safer for Teens

Child Mind Institute research highlights underreported online abuse among teenagers, emphasizing the need for accessible reporting, resources, and prevention measures

Most of us recognize that online abuse is pretty prominent for teenagers. Most research indicates that about 1/3 of teenagers have had an adverse experience on the internet. It could be sexual, bullying or other forms of control or abuse. Some of these experiences can lead to being groomed by some of the more serious abusers.

There has been little research on this topic so it is interesting to even know what is going on.  Also, teenagers tend not to report these incidences for fear they may receive consequences from their own parents or from the abusers. 

The Child Mind Institute conducted recent research on this topic that was funded by the Google Trust and Safety Team and Good Kids and Family Team. It focused on the frequency of these incidences and the reporting habits of teenagers when there was abuse, grooming or cyberbullying. Without getting too technical, the reality is teenagers are more likely to experience these abusive incidences more than they would report them to anyone.

I was more interested in the recommendations of the research that give power back to teenagers to report these issues. In layman’s terms there were several suggestions:

  1. Provide accessible information about reporting policy, process, and outcomes. This means we provide a level of contextual training for how to report abuse making it as easy and intuitive as possible.
  2. Increase discoverability of resources. This means we should be producing videos encouraging teenagers to protect themselves.
  3. Increase ease of reporting. This is about making reporting easier by having a simple button to press which allows you to report abuse.
  4. Provide more examples of reportable behavior. This is designed to educate kids about what abuse looks like.
  5. Make reporting anonymous. This allows a sense of nondisclosure that protects them from abusers.
  6. Use age-appropriate language. Example instead of saying “Report here,” say “Tell the platform.”

Since this research is recent and not tested, we have a long way to go to verify its efficacy. Yet, we do need to encourage our teenagers to expose their experiences online that are a threat to their safety and even their lives. We also need to have parents and school officials do all they can to discuss these issues openly and encourage teenagers to report any suspicious behavior.

The rampant online abuse needs much more prevention than is currently available. It’s important that we all raise our awareness of its impact and become active in its mitigation.

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