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How to Help Teens Make Online Spaces Safer

November 9, 2023

A new report from the Child Mind Institute, produced with support from Google’s Trust and Safety team and the Google Kids and Family team, finds that teens are more likely to experience online harassment and abuse than they are to report it.

The report draws on results from the Online Use and Reporting Survey (OURS) as well as qualitative interviews with young people aged 9 to 16. Respondents were found to spend about four hours online daily outside of school; more than a quarter reported having had a negative experience online — defined as “a situation online that made you uncomfortable or scared” — in the last year. A majority of that group reported multiple instances of online abuse. Yet, few teens reported it, citing barriers like embarrassment and uncertainty about how to report. Nearly half responded saying they did not report because they felt that the abuse “was not a big deal.” Teens with mental health challenges, particularly anxiety disorders, were found to perceive significantly more barriers than their peers.

Teens who did report online abuse mostly looked to the built-in reporting systems on social media platforms, not family and friends, for help. This finding underscores the need for platforms to take action to keep teens safe online. The report recommends that platforms make reporting easier and more accessible to users, as a vast majority of the teens surveyed said they wanted more information about how to use online safety features and what happens when you do.

“Most kids and teens feel confused about what to do when they have negative experiences online, and they are unsure about the best course of action,” says Aki Nikolaidis, PhD, a research scientist in the Center for the Developing Brain at the Child Mind Institute. “Clarifying the reporting process, policy, and outcomes is absolutely essential to increasing willingness to engage with the safety systems that online platforms have in place.”

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Molly Hagan
Molly Hagan is a freelance journalist and playwright in New York City. She is a staff writer for Current Biography … Read Bio