Kids Want Parents’ Help with Online Risks, but Fear Overreaction

Worried girl texting on phoneKids often want their parents’ help to manage risky situations on digital devices, according to a study presented at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. Fears about parents’ overreactions, however, can cause many kids to avoid discussing their online experiences with their parents.

According to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview, 91% of teens access the internet via a mobile device at least sometimes. Mobile devices can make it more difficult for parents to supervise internet usage because teens can use these devices anywhere.

Why Don’t Kids Turn to Parents for Help with Digital Media?

The study involved 136 parent-teen pairs. Participants completed diaries of online experiences on a weekly basis for eight weeks. Each week, researchers asked the duos to report on the online risks they experienced, including bullying, sexual harassment, exposure to pornography and other explicit content, and privacy breaches.

The teens rarely discussed these risks with their parents. Researchers also found parents and their children had different perceptions of risky situations. Teens saw risky experiences as embarrassing. Parents expressed fear and anger at even low-risk events. This perceived emotional overreaction discouraged teens from discussing these experiences with their parents.

Teens who did discuss their experiences with parents wanted help navigating risky situations. However, parents often misinterpreted their children’s attempts to communicate.

The study’s authors suggest parents should try to avoid overreacting, but should also try not to dismiss their children’s online experiences. Teens likely experience many more risks than they report to their parents, so parents are more likely to hear about these experiences when they welcome their children’s attempts to open lines of communication.

How Digital Media May Affect Mental Health

Research on how digital media use affects child and adolescent mental health is mixed. One study found 23% of children experience cyberbullying, which can lead to substance abuse, low self-esteem, and an assortment of other difficulties.

Another study found teens who spend significant quantities of time on social media are more likely to report unmet mental health concerns. More recent research undermines these findings. A study of more than 120,000 teens found moderate digital media use—including about four hours per day of computer time—is not likely to harm mental health.


  1. Kids want parental help with online risk, but fear parental freak outs. (2017, February 27). Retrieved from
  2. Lenhart, A. (2015, April 9). Mobile access shifts social media use and other online activities. Retrieved from

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