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Abstinence May Not Be the Best Policy For Avoiding Online Risk

By Penn State News

May 19, 2016

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Pennsylvania State University (PSU) researchers recently conducted a study that found permitting teenagers to gradually develop their own strategies for coping with risky online situations may be a better parental strategy than banning Internet use.

The researchers monitored the Web-based diaries of 86 teen Internet users over two months. The teens reported they encountered 207 risky events, including sexual solicitations and online harassment, according to former PSU postdoctoral researcher Pamela Wisniewski.

"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," Wisniewski says.

The teens also reported seeing little difference between online risks and the risks they encounter in the real world.

The research suggests it may be more beneficial to teens to gradually acclimate to online risk instead of avoiding exposure to all risks.

Of the 207 events the teens entered into their digital 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.

The researchers presented their findings at last week's ACM CHI 2016 conference in San Jose, CA.

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