Special Report: Kids, Data, and Internet Safety
March 30, 2010
- The Mission
- Cybermyths vs. cyberfacts
- Cyber harassment: A new twist on an old problem
- Identifying kids at-risk
- Internet safety: What works?
- What should parents do?
- Building community programs: One size doesn’t fit all
- Identifying what works: In search of evaluations
- Making better classroom use of online resources
- A new legal frontier: Sexting
- Different worlds, different approaches
- Next steps
- Download all as a PDF
They belong to the first generation to grow up in a networked world. The Internet, texting, IMs—these play a central role in the lives of many of today’s kids, shaping how they socialize, create, and learn, and even how they worship.
The explosive—and ever-accelerating—growth of digital technologies holds great promise for positive change but has also sparked concern about attendant dangers, including online predators, cyberbullying, and “sexting.” Adults increasingly find themselves facing a pressing question: How do we encourage kids to take full advantage of the digital world’s vast resources while also taking reasonable steps to keep them safe online?
With this question in mind, a working group of twelve “practitioners”—including educators, lawyers, public health and mental health experts, a pediatrician, a social worker, a juvenile judge, and a youth minister—recently spent a day at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society brainstorming possible strategies in the context of current research. Among the issues explored: sexual solicitation and sex crimes against minors, harassment and bullying, youth-generated problematic content, and access to problematic content.
“In planning this meeting, we recognized the gulf between research and practice,” said Berkman fellow danah boyd, a social media researcher and co-organizer of the Workshop on Youth Safety, part of Berkman’s larger Youth and Media Policy Working Group Initiative. “Our goal now is to push the re-set button, starting with the research.”
In particular, boyd stressed the need to move beyond the knee-jerk responses sparked by sensational news stories, the sort of reactions that all too often seem to be driving both popular opinion and legislation.
Along with Internet youth safety—the focus of this practitioners’ group—the Youth and Media Policy Working Group Initiative is also looking at youth-created content and information quality (an effort headed by Berkman Executive Director Urs Gasser) and privacy, publicity, and reputation (an effort headed by Harvard Law Professor John Palfrey, a Berkman faculty co-director). The Initiative is funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Cybermyths vs. cyberfacts
First on the working group’s agenda was an update on current research, which paints a far more sanguine picture than news reports often suggest. Despite a widespread perception that life online is growing riskier, the data tell a different story, according to public health researcher Michele Ybarra, President and Research Director of Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc.
“The data suggest that rates of bullying and sexual solicitation are not increasing and may actually even be decreasing,” Ybarra observed. “This is also true for the distress levels experienced by kids online.”
The mistaken perception that things are getting worse stems both from high-profile media reports and from the fact that some research studies skew towards older kids, Ybarra explained.
In her own work, which looked at 1,600 young people between the ages of 10 and 15, Ybarra found that 62% hadn’t been involved in Internet harassment—either as victim or perpetrator—over the course of the previous year. Of the remaining group, 17% had been both perpetrator and victim. Only 3% of harassers had not themselves been victimized, while 18% had been victimized but hadn’t harassed themselves.
In the course of any given year, between 33% and 39% of kids surveyed reported having been harassed over the three-year period from 2006 through 2008, with the most common incidents including rude or mean comments, online rumors, and threatening or aggressive comments. The slight increase in percentages coincided with the kids growing older—not surprising, as bullying, both online and off, tends to peak in middle school. On a monthly basis, only about 8% to 9% of those surveyed reported being harassed.
In sum, said Ybarra, many popular myths about youth and the Internet—“everyone” is affected by Internet harassment, harassment is increasing over time, harassment is getting nastier and more upsetting, and all young victims of online harassment are hapless innocents—are simply not supported by the data.
Data also offer insight into the profile of kids most at risk for Internet harassment: They are twice as likely to be white as non-white, they are more likely to come from affluent homes, and they are nine times as likely as non-victims to perpetrate harassment themselves, according to Ybarra.
Not surprisingly, kids who are bullied online also more likely to be bullied offline. Ybarra’s research also shows that victims of Internet harassment are more likely than peers to have brought weapons to school in the past 30 days, more likely to abuse alcohol, and more likely to suffer from a lack of closeness with primary caregivers. “Kids don’t operate in a vacuum,” Ybarra concluded.
Cyber harassment: A new twist on an old problem
Given the substantial overlap between online and offline worlds, how does Internet harassment differ from old-fashioned bullying?
One crucial difference is that online activity leaves a permanent record. While playground bullying disputes often pit one kid’s word against another’s, an online conflict produces hard evidence, noted Matt Levinson, head of Silicon Valley’s Nueva Middle School, a private institution for grades 5 through 8.
Not that the transcript system always works perfectly. Levinson wryly observed that parents have been known to edit online exchanges before sharing them with school authorities. And while a transcript is compelling so far as it goes, it rarely tells the whole story, as it omits offline interactions that may have fueled what happens online, added Faye Mishnia, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Factor Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
The visibility of bullying when it occurs online may have another unexpected consequence, noted Berkman’s boyd: People may have a tendency to blame the technology that forces them to confront disturbing behaviors—not realizing that technology is only the messenger.
And while cyberbullying is, in some ways, more visible than the bullying that goes on in the playground, in some ways it is less so. “You discover a black eye right away,” said Levinson. “With the Internet, you may be surprised to find that something’s been going on for six weeks.”
Are kids less likely to behave badly when adults are watching? While this might seem logical, Mishnia said that research doesn’t bear this out—the fact is, kids do bully in front of adults though adults often don’t notice.
Perhaps the biggest change wrought by digital technology is its all-encompassing nature, members of the working group agreed. “Some of our kids are texting at 2 a.m.,” said Deb Socia, founder and principal of the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, which provides each of its 6th through 8th grade students with their own laptops. “They have technology with them all the time. School doesn’t end at 3:30 anymore. Now our approach is 24/7 and we’re with parents 24/7. I don’t think you can look at this as a post-school day.”
Identifying kids at-risk
Kids who are bullied have similar profiles. Socia observed that they tend to be students with pre-existing risk factors—perhaps a dad in jail, perhaps a bit overweight, perhaps prone to depression—who are already living on the school’s social fringes. This makes them perfect targets for aggressive peers.
“Kids love drama,” Socia said. When they sense another student’s weakness “they’ll needle that kid until the kid blows up, and then they have a show.”
Levinson said he’s seen a similar same dynamic with his Silicon Valley students, with the leading risk factors for victims being depression and social awkwardness.
The challenge, both educators agreed, is to develop mechanisms to talk with kids—to foster self-confidence in victims and prospective victims, while also getting a clearer sense of why some kids become bullies. Indeed, while attention is often understandably focused on victims, longitudinal studies show that the most devastating long-term outcomes are often for the bullies themselves, said youth violence expert Bob Sege, a Boston Medical Center pediatrician. Among the outcomes linked to bullying: Failure to finish school and criminal activity.
Bullies may be especially hard to identify as parents rarely raise the issue with educators as they do when their kids are being bullied, Sege said. He stressed the importance of seeing potential links with seemingly unrelated issues, in particular acute onset ADD, where a child is doing well in school than suddenly becomes distracted, or in a parent’s general observation that “my kid’s in trouble at school.”
For the substantial percentage of bullies who are also victims, the risk factors for both groups are going to be present “to the nth degree,” researcher Ybarra added.
Internet safety: What works?
Given the profiles of at-risk kids, what sort of interventions work best?
Dana Gershengorn, a juvenile court judge in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, said that in her experience, the most successful interventions pair students with slightly older peers from the same community, for example, matching high schoolers with middle school students. That being said, she stressed the need for earlier and more expansive interventions that target potential victims and perpetrators before bullying begins. “The goal is intervening before kids get tracked as victims,” she said.
Principal Socia said her school has had success with an after-school “therapeutic intervention” model that employs social workers and involves families in resolving problems relating to Internet harassment. One element of this model involves working with students to write and sign a contract agreeing to certain online behaviors—for example, refraining from contacting each other through Facebook, email, or other online avenues. The contract clearly sets out prohibited behavior and consequences. “Then if they violate it, we have a plan,” said Socia, noting that consequences may include suspension. “We have a low suspension rate, but we don’t tolerate bullying,” she said, adding that peer mediation is another strategy that often proves effective.
Levinson said he relies heavily on his school’s Social and Emotional Learning program, where kids explore questions such as “In what circumstances would you go to an adult? Which adult would you go to?” Ultimately, he said, the goal is to have classrooms that function as “collaborative communities,” where teachers are themselves using technology with students in educational contexts and modeling appropriate behavior.
Providing kids with “communities of support”—groups they can count on when it feels like the world is against them—can also be tremendously helpful, said Andrew Zirschky, a youth minister and doctoral student at Princeton Theological Seminary.
Finding that safe place is often especially challenging for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered kids, who may feel uncomfortable—or find themselves unwelcome—in groups where their straight peers find support, Mishnia commented.
What should parents do?
What roles should parents be called on to play—and to what extent are they responsible for assuring their kids’ online safety? These are important questions, though they don’t have clear answers.
While Socia suggested urging parents to keep computers in places where kids can be watched, Mishnia questioned whether this is realistic in homes where kids have laptop computers. Parents also need to understand that monitoring kids’ Internet use isn’t always as simple as it may seem, as tech-savvy kids can easily circumvent parents’ rules and restrictions. “You don’t want to give parents a false sense of security,” Gershengorn said. “I warn parents that if their child has a buddy list of less than 50 people, they probably have another buddy list somewhere else.” Similarly, Socia noted that kids at her school are quite adept at using proxy servers to get around the school’s Internet filtering.
There are also cases where parents create more problems than they solve, Berkman’s boyd noted. Parents may themselves be abusers—or, conversely, they may be so irrationally fearful and over-protective that interfere with their kids’ ability to develop critical online skills and access resources.
Since kids are inevitably going to be on their own a good bit of the time—and even more so as they get older—it makes sense to arm them with facts that will help them be good decision makers, working group members agreed.
“Are there some concrete, simple factors we could use to create an early warning system for kids?” asked Berkman’s Gasser. Putting such factors in the form of a checklist for kids “would be really powerful,” Ybarra added. “It would help them both internalize and more accurately assess their risk.”
Building community programs: One size doesn’t fit all
Working group members agreed that successful interventions will recognize—and ideally capitalize on—a given community’s culture and concerns. “The solutions are not going to be the same for every school,” Socia said, noting that, for her students, gang violence and poverty are daily realities. “In one intervention we tried, the materials showed a context so far from my students’ lives that they laughed!”
But it’s not only the problems that vary by community—it’s also the strengths. Working group members agreed on the importance of identifying and building on community assets. “You need to capitalize on the strengths of the specific community,” said Zirschky. “You need to go beyond translation.”
While not all schools have the resources to adapt successful programs to their populations, a sort of “cookbook” describing how to do so would be “a major step forward,” Ybarra said.
At the start, it’s also important to be clear on what the issues are, and in some cases, adults may need a reality check, said Dena Sacco, Cooley Cyberlaw Clinic Fellow at Harvard Law School. She recalled how parents attending a wealthy private school’s presentation on Internet safety initially dismissed certain statistics saying that the study couldn’t possibly be true for kids at schools like theirs. The presenter diplomatically responded that this wasn’t necessarily so “as the study skews wealthy and white,” Sacco recalled.
Identifying what works: In search of evaluations
Before arriving at the daylong meeting, working group members pored through descriptions of dozens of Internet safety programs submitted from around the country. The consensus: While many offered interesting ideas, few if any had been sufficiently evaluated, a reason for real concern.
“We need to be sure that the educational interventions we support actually benefit kids and that they don’t have unintended negative consequences,” boyd observed.
Underscoring this danger, Tobit Emmens, a British mental health researcher within the NHS (Wonford House Hospital), described how one intervention aimed at reducing self-harm might actually be found to increase the risk of suicide. “One of our studies found that self-harm was a way to cope—the one thing some people could do to control their emotional state. The risk is, if we work to decrease self harm, we may well see an increase in suicides,” he said. Acknowledging that this study is at odds with other suicide prevention research where the focus is to reduce self-harm as it is seen as a risk factor to suicide, he said it points to the importance of careful evaluation.
Another area where such evaluation is notably lacking is with online self-tests for depression, which, Emmens noted, “were never created or validated as self-assessment scales.”
Even after a program is evaluated, those attempting to implement it may find themselves in a Catch 22: If they adapt the program to meet community needs, it’s no longer the program that was “proven” effective, Emmens observed.
Sege suggested that is the “realist review” method of research synthesis provides one possible route around this dilemma. This method attempts to identify the shared attributes of effective approaches. Among other things, it has been used to evaluate Internet-based medical education, determining what works, for whom, and in what circumstances.
The work of educator Theodore Sizer might also prove instructive, Socia added. “He said ‘here are the things a good school should do.’ He didn’t say what these things should look like in any specific school,” she said.
Indeed, whatever their context, successful programs do seem to share common threads, working group members agreed. For example, it’s likely that school district leaders need to be proactively involved for a public school-based program to succeed, Socia said. Similarly, successful programs also tend to be built from the inside out, not from the outside in, Levinson added. As an example, he pointed to the GoodPlay Project which, in conjunction with Project New Media Literacies at MIT, drew on in-depth interviews with high school students to create a curriculum that addresses the ethical issues and challenges youth face online.
Good programs also start early, Levinson noted. “We need to start as early as kindergarten and first grade. Middle school is too late.”
Making better classroom use of online resources
Given the vast promise of the Internet to transform student learning, educators expressed some frustration at existing restrictions on its use in schools.
“I think we’ve barely touched the potential for Facebook and MySpace to affect student learning, if we could just begin to harness the energy on those sites for academic purposes,” Socia said, adding that she’s frustrated that teachers are barred from using resource-rich YouTube as a teaching tool.
The question, working group members agreed, is how to overcome irrational fears about online dangers. One first step in this direction, Sege said, would be to explain more clearly how students benefit from online resources. “If I tell you that we’re giving kids the opportunity to exchange book reports on the web, that’s better than going up against fears head on, which just brings up anxieties,” he noted.
Working group members agreed that there is a need for positive public messages about how kids can benefit from the Internet to counterbalance sensational media reports that focus on exceptional cases. .
A new legal frontier: Sexting
Sexting—the sending of sexually explicit messages and pictures through cell phones or other technology—has gotten a lot of media attention in recent years, and the issue is only growing hotter, as state legislatures around the country move to address it.
“Sexting is an unsettled space right now, which means it’s a great place to have an impact” said Sacco, a former federal prosecutor focusing on child exploitation cases who now teaches in Berkman’s clinical program. “Legislation is all over the map. The question is how we fix the flurry of laws that are coming down the pike and won’t be so easy to change once they’re enacted.”
While sexting is a product of the digital era, kids have been taking sexy pictures of themselves for as long as they’ve had access to cameras. One big difference now is ease of dissemination. Photos fly through cyberspace, with the original sender having little or no control over who eventually sees them. Another difference is that, fueled by celebrity culture, kids seem increasingly eager to appear on camera. “It’s the Paris Hilton dynamic,” boyd noted. “The idea that I, too, can be famous.”
According to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, 8% percent of 17-year-olds have sent a nude or semi-nude image by text and 30% have received such an image, while 4% of 12-to-17-year-olds have sent sexually provocative images, and 15% have received them. (These numbers are lower than some reported elsewhere, as the Pew report defines “sexting” only to include images sent via cell phone text message, excluding email and other technologies.)
One of the most pressing questions is how the legal system should treat kids who engage in sexting. Are they innocent victims or perpetrators? In recent years, a number of state prosecutors have turned to child pornography laws in an effort to combat sexting. While these laws vary by jurisdiction, they typically prohibit the creation, possession or dissemination of sexually explicit images of a minor—regardless of whether or not the images were created by the minor being charged. Prosecutions under these laws may carry serious long-term consequences, including felony convictions, prison sentences, and required registration as a sex offender.
Should kids be prosecuted for sexting? There are arguments on both sides, Sacco observed. Opponents say that it’s wrong to use statutes meant to protect children for the purpose of punishing them and further contend that such prosecutions violate kids’ First Amendment rights. They point to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 decision in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, which seemed to hold that child pornography is excluded from First Amendment protection only in cases where kids are harmed in its production. Supporters, however, contend that while sexting may appear harmless, there is often subtle coercion involved, as boys often pressure girls to send them sexy pictures. Supporters further note that exempting self-produced images from child pornography statutes would make all child pornography prosecutions far more difficult, as law enforcement officials would have to prove that an image was not self-created before they could bring a case. The issues become even more complicated further down the distribution chain: For example, what is the status of an image created by a sexting teenager once it falls into the hands of an adult consumer of child pornography?
Faced with such challenging questions, state legislatures around the country are searching for new ways to deal with sexting. Approaches include downgrading felonies to misdemeanors or status offenses when committed in a sexting context, new defenses to prosecution under child pornography laws, and educational efforts, according Kelly Tallon, a Harvard Law School student who shared her research on sexting and school policy with the working group.
Educators need to tread carefully on these largely uncharted grounds, Tallon observed. She described a Virginia case where an assistant high school principal was charged with possession of child pornography after saving an electronic copy of a nude photograph he’d obtained in order to investigate a student sexting incident. While a judge eventually threw out the charge, he did so based on the fact that the photo wasn’t explicit enough to constitute pornography—not because the administrator obtained the picture in an effort to do his job.
The legal overviews provided by Sacco and Tallon underscored the need for clearer guidelines for educators, working group members said.
“We take sexting very seriously,” said Socia. “What’s scary is the lack of anything substantial giving us guidance.”
In principle, that guidance should be coming from state and federal departments of education, but the current climate of uncertainty makes it difficult to set policy. “The problem is that in many states it’s unclear what the law is,” Sacco observed.
Berkman’s Gasser suggested that sexting—like other Internet safety issues—would benefit from a range of approaches, ranging from “light touch” interventions that don’t require any sort of legislative fix—including reporting, monitoring, data collection, and “best practices” recommendations for parents, social workers, and schools—to new laws targeting issues that can’t be addressed in non-legal ways.
One “light touch” intervention might involve finding ways to leverage whatever norms now exist within social networks, working group members said. And to the extent that online social norms are yet to be determined, Levinson suggested that much is to be gained from involving kids in shaping them. Socia agreed: “The more students are involved in the conversation, the more likely they are to follow the rule,” she said.
Harvard Law Professor Palfrey suggested that all the groups would do well to consider the framework set out by HLS Professor Lawrence Lessig in his book Code Version 2.0 , which posits that cyberspace is regulated by four distinctive constraints. These include “East Coast code” (which includes law and government regulation), “West Coast code” (which consists of rules embedded in the technology itself, such as age verification requirements), market constraints (for example, Internet users can’t use an online service they can’t afford to pay for), and the constraints—or lack thereof—reflected in individual and social norms (for example, many generally law-abiding kids have no qualms about stealing music since “everyone” seems to do it).
In thinking about Internet safety, Palfrey said it’s important to be realistic about whether “best practices” and other voluntary guidelines are likely to be followed—and if not, to come up with other strategies. “I love the idea of ‘best practices,’ but they have none of the benefits of law,” he said. “When you go for approaches without teeth, you need to be sure the incentives are built in. If they’re not, you need to think about the sanction side.”
Of course, before deciding on interventions, the goal needs to be clear, working group members noted. “When it comes to sexting, what outcomes are we after?” asked youth minister Zirschky. “Do we want to stop production? Stop dissemination? Mitigate the harmful effect of distribution and creation?”
Mishnia suggested a three-tier approach: “When possible, stop it. When not possible, minimize distribution. When it’s distributed, mitigate the harm.”
While some contend that sexting is a valid form of youthful self-expression, working group members had other views. “I feel passionately that it’s not a valid form of self-expression—they’re too young” said Socia. “My personal belief is that our kids feel they don’t have a lot of hope and when you don’t have hope, you don’t imagine the future. We need to be proactive in providing students with hope, opportunity, and resources so they think about the future and don’t get into these situations in the first place. We need to send the message ‘take charge of your body.’ We need to support them in being young.”
Working group members also said that students who engage in sexting often feel coerced by peer pressure. “Girls tend to do it because they think if they don’t, they won’t be popular or won’t get the guy. Things like that,” said Zirschky.
In responding to such pressures, Zirschky said he’s found it helpful to talk with kids in his weekly youth groups about values-based decision making. “We say ‘let’s talk about what you value and why. Which values trump other values? Then, as a group, let’s come up with how you will live together and how you will hold each other accountable.’”
Different worlds, different approaches
The issue of Internet safety converges with worlds ranging from law enforcement to education to mental health. Judges, educators, social workers, religious leaders, researchers, and physicians—all have critical roles to play in seeing that kids are secure. Among the questions posed by the working group: What strategies work best in these diverse arenas, and how can they best be advanced?
Social workers could play a far larger role in addressing Internet safety issues if these issues were more clearly on their collective radar screen, Mishnia observed. Because social workers traditionally work across the boundaries of school, home, social services, and law enforcement, they are especially well-equipped to deal with issues that require a holistic approach, she said. Social workers are also trained to work in supportive and collaborative ways, skills that are especially important when addressing sensitive issues like sexting, she added.
Mental health researcher Emmens noted that troubled kids who are feeling isolated often take their problems to online communities, providing an opportunity for mental health interventions. He suggested exploring ways to embed mental health professionals in online settings in ways that could help channel conversations in productive directions. The challenge, he acknowledged, would be doing this without having the professionals perceived as “weird outsiders.”
Broadly speaking, Emmens said the goal should be to develop mental health interventions that are “interactive and preventative” as well as “age and context specific.” In connecting with kids around issues such as cutting or other self-harm activities, mental health professionals need to be aware that repressing conversation about these issues is only likely to drive it underground, a dangerous outcome. Instead, the challenge is to find ways to talk about these topics that reduce, rather than increase, risks.
Building on this idea, Berkman’s boyd said she has been developing a model that she calls “The Digital Street Outreach Program,” modeled after outreach programs that have been successful with street kids. The goal would be to take high school and college students and arm them with enough information that they can serve as a sort of “digital street outreach army,” steering troubled young people towards appropriate mental health and other resources, she said.
Ybarra noted that it would be important to think about evaluation issues for such a program. “What are the outcomes you’re going to look for and how are you going to measure them?” she asked. More broadly, Ybarra observed that the field of public health offers many useful tools and strategies for “connecting the dots” and figuring out how best to coordinate diverse initiatives relating to Internet safety.
While sometimes left out of the conversation, churches and other faith-based organizations offer unique opportunities to talk to both parents and kids about Internet safety, youth minister Zirschky said. Religious communities are one of the few places where kids talk to adults who are not their parents about issues relating to values, faith, and morals. These organizations also include extensive networks of youth leaders whom parents often trust and look to for guidance. One complicating factor is the widespread concern in many congregations about the potential for sexual abuse when adults work closely with kids, and Zirschky stressed the importance of thinking through policies to address this issue.
While the legal system comes into play only after other options have been exhausted, judges and other law enforcement personnel are playing a growing role in dealing with problems relating to Internet safety. Juvenile court judge Gershengorn said that it’s important for judges to approach Internet safety issues from a long-term policy-based perspective rather than seeking a quick fix. This is far more likely to happen in states where judges have life-time appointments than in states where judges are elected, she noted. Elected judges face strong political pressures and tend to think about what news reports will say and how this will affect votes, observed Gershengorn, who herself has a life-time appointment.
Gershengorn said that when cases of bullying reach her court she takes them very seriously, recognizing that by this point school resources have been exhausted. That being said, in dealing with a child who has no previous record, she tries to come up with options short of adjudication. These may include counseling or alternative schools. “There are till ways to divert kids out of the system once they get into the system,” she noted. Gershengorn said she has been impressed by “restorative justice” models that involve the victim, the offender and the larger community in resolving problems through mediation.
Along with being culturally relevant, Socia said that interventions need to foster, rather than hinder, the use of technology in education. One way of doing this is by would be by “using the tool to teach the skill,” for example providing Internet safety guidance through Facebook, she said. Socia also stressed the need for more data aimed at helping educators identify at-risk students and to be more proactive with interventions.
Levinson added that that the ultimate goal is for schools to be “collaborative learning communities” where issues relating to Internet safety are addressed in the context of education. In the meantime, he said, it’s important that kids have safe places where they can speak anonymously and get guidance, an opportunity made available through his own school’s Social and Emotional Learning program.
Successful Internet safety interventions must be grounded in solid evaluation and research, working group members agreed. Good data is key.
“I love the data,” Socia said. “It helps me every step of the way. It allows me to say to parents, ‘Let’s look at what the data says so we can relax a little bit, especially when it comes to risk factors.’”
Along with quantitative studies, Zirschky said qualitative research has a big role to play. “With sexting, you want to know how much is coercion? What kind of coercion?” he said. “You can get at some of that through quantitative research but qualitative assessments help get a better handle.”
It’s also important to know how various risk factors tie together, including the correlations between offline and online behaviors, Levinson observed.
Looking ahead, boyd said she’d been impressed by concerns about the cultural relevance of Internet safety interventions and the need to think through how different interventions might work better for some than others. She added that the feedback she’d received had convinced her it was time to work directly with the kids themselves. “I want to bring in teens for a focus group. Let’s get their suggestions,” she concluded.