Parents of teens know how tricky it is to keep their kids physically safe while balancing their need for greater independence, but when it comes to keeping them safe online, it can be even trickier.
Horror stories of social media harassment and exposure to explicit content leading to teen suicide or even murder abound. Yet most apps sold to promote teen safety online focus on giving parents control over the phone, rather than helping teens learn how to navigate the web safely, a study finds.
Researchers looked at 74 Android mobile apps and found that 89 percent of the security features on the apps focus on parental control by blocking and monitoring teens’ online activities. Only 11 percent support teens’ ability to regulate their own behavior. In other words, most of the apps don’t encourage parents and teens to talk about their shared social media values. And that may be a missed opportunity.
“The most apparent finding from our results is that developers assume that parents are the end users of mobile online safety apps, not teens,” says lead researcher Pamela Wisniewski, a former postdoctoral scholar in information sciences and technology at Penn State who is now an assistant professor in computer science at the University of Central Florida.
“Teens have somehow been overlooked within the design process because these apps clearly violate their privacy and assume the only thing that can do to protect themselves from online risk is make an SOS call to a trusted adult,” Wisniewski said in an email to Shots.
The most surprising finding? That ReThink, the only app that gave teens a bigger role in online risk reduction, was designed by a 15-year-old girl, Wisniewski says. It’s designed like those drunk texting apps that temporarily block contacts (like exes) to save us from sending ill-advised screeds at the end of a long night, but this one helps teens “rethink” before sending a potentially hurtful message.
– April Fulton
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