According to a study released today, UK teens are so confident with their online activities that 77% said they rarely, or never, say things they will later regret. The study, conducted by leading international market research agency, YouGov, on behalf of Ask.fm, the world’s largest Q&A social network, investigated how teenagers use social networks, what their parents are most concerned about, and attitudes towards anonymity and bullying.
Almost half (46%) of the 1,639 teenagers surveyed stated they don’t believe anyone their age takes what’s posted online “seriously,” further highlighting how comfortable they are online. Encouragingly, teens appear to take bullying very seriously with 78% claiming they would step in if they observed this behavior. However, teens also expect social networks to take action against bullying behavior, and prefer to report bullying they see on such sites in an anonymous fashion, if given the choice.
The study, Digital Families 2015: Evolving Attitudes Around Social Media and App Use, was conducted between May 29 and June 3, 2015 and had 2,905 respondents (1,639 UK respondents), which included 13-18-year-olds and their parents. Results from the US and Ireland versions of the study can be found here.
UK teen respondents are also happy for parents to see their social media activity, underscoring the fact many teens use social networks as an everyday method for connecting with friends, as opposed to anything malicious:
- Only 1 in 10 (11%) teens feel the need to “hide” their social media activity from parents;
- 50 per cent stated “it doesn’t matter” to them if parents follow their social media accounts.
An Extension of Their Physical World
“The Ask.fm report demonstrates the degree to which social networks have become an extension of a teenager’s physical world. Teenagers don’t always think through the consequences of their actions and it is no different online; although, as we’ve seen, the ramifications of poor online choices can have particularly ill effects on relationships and future opportunities. There is still much education to be done, and this involves everyone: the networks themselves, parents, teachers and the Government,” said Annie Mullins OBE, Director of EU Safety Operations, Ask.fm.
The research shows the extent to which teenagers in the UK are concerned with how they are perceived by peers while engaging with these services.
- 30 per cent of UK teenagers check to see if anyone has commented, favourited or liked their post within a few minutes of posting it;
- 27 per cent enable push notifications so they don’t have to check back in the app for updates;
- Over a third (39%) always or sometimes feel disappointed if they don’t get a response quickly after they have posted;
- Irish and British teens are most fearful of being laughed at for talking about a crush/boyfriend/girlfriend, problems at home, family, and friends online (54% and 49%, respectively); however, American teens are less concerned about it (32%).
Attitudes Toward Anonymity: Sharing What They Really Feel
Forty-four per cent of UK teens say being anonymous online allows them to share new ideas without the worry of being made fun of, while 37% say they can share their real feelings this way.
Despite the perception by some that anonymity online can lead to or enable bullying, interestingly, 41% of teenagers across all countries who have been bullied online say they are more likely to talk about difficult topics online if they were anonymous. Of all UK teenagers (whether they stated they were bullied or not) only 5% would talk about difficult topics on their publics profile, compared to 41% if they were anonymous. Only 6% stated they use the ability to post anonymously so that comments can’t be traced back to them.
The study found teens post anonymous questions online for several reasons, including:
- The ability to engage in discussions on topics they don’t feel comfortable talking about publicly;
- Avoiding looking “dumb” asking a question;
- Wanting to learn what someone really thinks of them;
- Showing a different side of their personality.
“When offered in a responsible way, the option for anonymity online can be a powerful tool for teenagers. They want to discuss difficult topics, whether it be about first relationships, issues with their studies or problems at home, without the fear of being judged. However, we have to help users of this feature act responsibly with the right tools, moderation strategies, guidance and appropriate consequences for misuse. No one is ever 100% anonymous online. Teenagers need to know this, and be clear on the consequences of their actions,” concluded Mullins.
Parents Accept Social Media as Part of Their Teenagers’ Everyday Lives
According to the report, almost half of the UK parents questioned (45%) do not monitor their teen’s online activity. This is a much higher percentage as compared to parents in the US (26%) and Ireland (20%).
“Given that social media is a part of everyday life, it is more important than ever that conversations about how to behave responsibly are also woven into everyday discussion. Understandably, staying on top of every social network is a daunting task for parents, which is why all stakeholders – teenagers, parents, teachers and the platforms – must work together to ensure younger users have the guidance and tools they need to create the safest and positive experience possible,” commented Mullins.
Parents Don’t Use the Networks Their Teenagers do
Almost 9 in 10 (86%) parents say they are aware of most of the sites their teenagers spend time on, but few use the most popular social networks amongst teens. According to the report, Instagram and Snapchat are two of the top five social networks UK teenagers use, yet almost half of UK parents have never used them before (46% and 43% respectively).
For parents, the main concern was not about abuse or what their children might see or do while using these services, but rather the amount of time they spend online (59%) that could be spent on other activities such as homework.
Other big concerns are:
- Teenagers might see something they shouldn’t (45%);
- They may use websites that aren’t appropriate (45%);
Concern about their teenager being bullied online is second to last (29%). Parents were least concerned (27%) about not being able to see what their teenagers are doing online.
Bullying: Teens Take a Stand
When it comes to bullying, online or offline, teens are prepared to take action. Whether that is stepping in if they witness someone being bullied (78%), blocking someone from contacting them on a social network (57%) or approaching a parent (51%) if they are a bully’s target.
When it comes to taking action, UK teenagers feel more comfortable reporting bullying online if they are anonymous compared to their counterparts in Ireland and the US, especially if they are witnesses as opposed to targets themselves. Along with anonymous reporting, teenagers also expect social networks and apps to take action and hold bullies accountable by closing accounts and blocking them from opening new ones.
Bullying appears to be more commonplace in person as opposed to online, as stated by both parents and teenagers:
- 37 per cent of parents have been told by their teenaged child that they have been bullied in the physical world;
- Opposed to only 9% who have been told about cyberbullying.
- The average proportion of teenagers that stated they had been bullied in person was 39%;
- Opposed to 13% who said they had been bullied online.
“We share teens’ view that networks must take abuse on their platform seriously and hold young people who bully accountable for their actions,” said Mullins. “Our goal is to make it increasingly easier for users to block and report abusive behavior, and we’ll continue to seek input from teens on how we can best empower them to call out bad behavior when they see it.”
Please visit Ask.fm’s Safety Center for additional survey findings and more information and tips on how to help teens make safe and healthy choices online.
Ask.fm is the world’s largest Q&A social network where more than 150 million members in more than 150 countries connect and engage by asking each other questions. Ask.fm is operated by Ask.com, the leading brand for online questions and answers and an operating business of IAC.