The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new report today on teens’ online contact with strangers. Here’s the high level summary:
Fully 32% of online teens have been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends, and 7% of online teens say they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of contact by an online stranger. Several behaviors are associated with high levels of online stranger contact, including social networking profile ownership, posting photos online and using social networking sites to flirt. Although several factors are linked with increased levels of stranger contact in general, gender is the only variable with a consistent association with contact that is scary or uncomfortable–girls are much more likely to report scary or uncomfortable contact than boys.
Now here are three reasons this should make you feel better as a parent, educator or adult with teens in their lives.
1. Remember that someone with no connection could be a band or artist, a company, an activist organization, or a group moderator asking them to join a group — not just creepy adults with bad intentions.
2. Only 7 percent of teens said this contact made them scared or uncomfortable. That means 93 percent just looked the other way. Hopefully the 7 percent talked to their parents about the contact in addition to blocking the user and reporting them to the site’s administrators.
3. Most of the contact that makes teens uncomfortable or scared seems to be reported by girls who post photos on their profiles. The more photos, the more stranger contact. Teens who specifically are using these sites to flirt are also attracting more stranger contact. Remember, Pew also recently reported that of teens with online profiles, 66% say their profile is not visible to all internet users. With many teens moving over to Facebook because it feels more private, I think this percentage is probably even higher now.
The big take away from this data is that it’s important to talk to teens about the risks that come with posting lots of photos online and especially girls who post photos in bathing suits or any kind of revealing clothing. It may attract unwanted attention. If they still want to share their photos, just make sure they report any of this attention to the website and talk with you about it if really made them uncomfortable. The teens who are going online specifically to flirt, potentially with strangers in a way that involves webcams or any type of sexually explicit chatting are engaging in risky behavior, which they’re probably doing offline as well…