Parents, teachers, and media are teens’ biggest sources for general advice about how to use the internet and cell phones responsibly and safely.
As teens navigate difficult online experiences, where do they get advice (solicited and not)? In our survey, we asked all teen internet or cell phone users a general question about the people and places from which they had ever received advice about how to use mobile phones and the internet “responsibly and safely.”
The data suggest that teens hear from a variety of sources, but most frequently say their parents give them advice about online safety and responsible behavior, with 86% of teens reporting advice from a parent. Another 70% of teens say they have received advice about online safety from a teacher or another adult at school, and more than half (54%) of teens say they have gotten advice from television, radio, newspapers, or magazines. Nearly half of teens have received advice from younger and older relatives – siblings, cousins, aunts, grandparents – and friends. About a third of teens (34%) say they have gotten online safety advice from websites, and about one in five (21%) have gotten information from the internet or mobile phone service providers. Slightly fewer than one in five (18%) have gotten safety information from a librarian, and another handful volunteered that they attended a school event on online safety.
The most noticeable aspect of teens’ answers was the diversity of people and groups that came up – everyone from bus drivers to bosses, camp counselors, neighbors, doctors, police, at after school programs, and from billboards and flyers to a “random lady in Wal-Mart.” Teens are getting advice about online safety from many different parts of their lives.
This question did not address whether the advice was requested or wanted, nor whether it was useful, accurate, or well-received. We explored some of these issues in an additional series of questions discussed later in this section.
Girls are more likely than boys to receive advice from people other than parents.
Everyone was equally likely to receive general advice about internet safety from their parents. With other sources of advice, variations emerge. Girls are more likely than boys to have received advice from teachers, media, siblings, older relatives, friends, and websites. Younger teens are more likely to have received advice from older relatives, siblings, and librarians. In keeping with an established pattern of greater surveillance by parents, younger girls are the most likely to report receiving advice from teachers, media, older relatives, friends, siblings, websites, and librarians. For teens of all ages and genders, parents are the most commonly mentioned source for advice about online safety.
Teens average 5 sources from which they receive advice about online safety and responsibility.
Almost all teens receive advice from someone – whether wanted or not – about how to use the internet safely and responsibly. Just 2% of teens said they had not gotten advice from anyone or any place about how to be safe online. Indeed, most teens are receiving advice from multiple sources. The average number of people or places a teen had received online safety advice from was 5. The bulk of teens received advice from between 3 and 6 different types of people, organizations, or entities.
Latino teens are more likely than white teens to get advice from siblings or cousins, and black and Latino teens are more likely than whites to get advice from older relatives.
Lower-income teens from families earning less than $50,000 annually are more likely to seek advice from relatives – older relatives like aunts and uncles and younger relatives like brothers, sisters, and cousins. More than half of lower-income teens seek advice from relatives, while just 40% of higher income teens use relatives as a source of advice. Lower-income teens are also more likely than teens from wealthier homes to ask a librarian for general advice about online safety and responsible behavior (20% vs. 15%).
About a third of teens who witness online cruelty seek advice.
In addition to the question we asked teens about who gives them advice, we also asked whether teens have sought out advice when they have a problem, and the sources of advice they choose. Not all teens are muddling through these negative (and positive) online experiences by themselves. A bit more than a third of teens (36%) who have seen others be mean or cruel on a social network site say they have asked or looked for advice about what to do. Girls, particularly younger girls, are more likely to seek advice about troubling social media experiences; 51% of girls have sought advice, compared with 20% of boys. Broken out by age, 58% of younger girls ages 12-13 and 48% of older girls ages 14-17 have sought advice, compared with 19% of younger and 20% of older boys.
Bullied teens and teens who have had negative experiences on social media are more likely to seek advice.
Teens who say they have been bullied are also more likely to say they have sought advice about what they witnessed or experienced online. More than half (56%) of bullied teens have looked for advice when they have witnessed meanness or cruelty, compared with 30% of teens who have not been bullied. Teens who have experienced cruelty on social network sites or who have had other negative experiences because of social media are also more likely than kids without these experiences to ask for advice. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of teens who have experienced cruelty have looked for advice, compared with 31% of those who have not experienced cruelty. Among teens who have had multiple (more than three) negative outcomes from experiences on social media, 55% of them have sought advice, compared with 29% of those who have not had any of the other negative outcomes from social media interaction detailed on the survey. However, teens who have had positive experiences on social media (strengthened friendships, felt good about themselves) also are more likely than those who have not have any of the positive (or any negative) experiences to seek advice about online issues. Two in five (41%) teens with positive experiences sought advice, compared with 15% of those who have not had either of the positive experiences we asked about. Teens who have not had any of the positive or negative outcomes from online interaction that we queried are more often low-level users of social network sites – generally visiting them less than monthly.
Boys are less likely to seek online advice after witnessing social media meanness.
Teens who report that they have not sought advice from someone after witnessing meanness or cruelty on social network sites are more likely to be boys than girls (80% of boys report they have not sought advice versus 49% of girls) and are also more likely to be older. Among teens who have witnessed social media meanness, 58% of younger teens ages 12-13 say they have not sought advice, nor have 66% of teens ages 14-17. There are no statistically significant differences between ethnic groups or by socio-economic status in the likelihood of seeking advice about witnessed meanness.
Teens who have not sought advice are also likely to have otherwise not suffered from much in the way of negative experiences on social media – they’re more likely to report in their experience that most people their age are kind to one another on social media and are less likely to have experienced online cruelty directly themselves or been bullied anywhere in the last 12 months.
It may also be that teens who did not seek advice after witnessing social media meanness did not see something that required intervention or advice – either because it was not serious, the conflict resolved on its own, or they had experience with this behavior and knew how to handle it themselves.
Peers and parents are the go-to source of advice to cope with online harassment.
Among teens who have sought out advice on how to cope with or respond to a bad online experience, who do they go to for such information? Of the teens who have witnessed online cruelty and then sought advice for how to handle it, more than half seek help from a friend or peer. Another third seek out advice from parents. Much smaller numbers of teens say they look to a sibling or cousin for advice, or ask a teacher. A handful of teens seek advice from another relative like an aunt or uncle, or a youth pastor/religious leader, and another very small number visit websites for advice.
Girls and boys are equally likely to seek advice from difference sources, but younger teens ages 12-13 are much more likely to rely on friends and peers than older teens, while older teens are more like than younger teens to ask parents for advice. The youngest girls are the most likely to rely on friends for advice.
Teens say the advice they get from friends and parents about how to deal with online cruelty is helpful.
Overwhelmingly, those teens who ask for advice about online cruelty they witnessed or experienced think the advice they got was helpful. More than nine in ten of those asking for advice (92%) say that the advice was good. Another 6% say the advice they got didn’t make any difference in their situation and 2% say they looked or asked for advice but did not find it or receive it. None of our respondents said the advice they got was not helpful.
Parents: Most important in shaping teens’ attitudes toward appropriate online behavior
We asked teens who (or what) was the biggest influence on what they think is appropriate or inappropriate behavior on a cell phone or online, and a majority – 58% – say their parents have the greatest influence. White teens are more likely to say parents than Latino teens (63% vs. 42%), and teens from the wealthiest families (earning more than $75,000 a year) are more like to point to parents than teens from any other income group. Teens whose parents lack a high school degree are the only group for which parents are not the main source of influence – these teens are more likely to cite “no one” (36%) than to cite parents (28%). There are very few differences in influencers by age or gender of the teen. Older teens ages 14-17 are more likely to specify friends as their biggest influence, with 22% of that age group reporting that, while 10% of younger users point to friends as their source of their online attitudes.
Parent internet users are also more likely to serve as a teen’s biggest influence on online and cell phone behavior than parents who do not use the internet: teens with online parents are more likely to report that parents are their biggest influence than teens whose parents do not go online (60% vs. 37%.)
Teens who use social media are more likely than teens who do not to say that friends (21% vs. 6%) and siblings (13% vs. 4%) are their biggest influence. Teens who do not use social media (generally, younger teens, particularly boys) are more likely to say that their parents are the most influential (68% vs. 54%).
Teens who have witnessed cruel behavior online are more likely than those who have not witnessed meanness to say that their parents (57% vs. 37%) and friends (22% vs. 8%) are the biggest influences on their vision of appropriate online and on phone behavior. On the flip side, teens who have not witnessed online cruelty more often say that “no one” is their biggest influence around online behavior, with 46% of such teens saying so, compared with 15% of those who have been exposed to online cruelty.