Thought Bubble: Parents are out of touch when it comes to cyberbulling

May 7, 2019
4 min read

The potential for online harassment has reached a level that it has become one of parents’ primary fears for their kids. But while parents worry themselves sick over imagined cyberbullies, teens are more stressed about their grades, their extracurricular activities and their hair.

Dana Macke, Associate Director – Lifestyle & Leisure, US

For parents, cyberbullying is a crisis

Cyberbullying is a huge concern for parents. Nearly half of moms agree that cyberbullying is one of the most important issues that Americans should be working to solve for the next generation. In fact, moms rank this issue as more pressing than opioid addiction, social media addiction, the obesity epidemic and teen pregnancy according to Mintel US research on marketing to moms.

Parents, overall, are concerned about their kids’ interactions with technology. Eight in 10 moms agree that kids are too absorbed in technology and many families struggle to carve out quality “switched off” time together. Parents’ apprehension comes from a place of uncertainty. They don’t necessarily know how their kids are spending their time online unless they’re incredibly diligent about tracking and monitoring family devices and social media accounts. Because they can’t witness online behavior, parents may let their imaginations run wild with possible ramifications of kids’ digital explorations.

More than half of parents say they worry their child will be the victim of cyberbullying, even though only a quarter believe their kids might be the perpetrators of online harassment themselves according to Mintel research on US families and technology. This leaves parents in a reactive position – trying to protect their kids – rather than a proactive position, educating their kids on appropriate online behaviors. Feelings of not being able to control interactions and waiting for a threat to appear may be exacerbating parent’s concerns of cyberbullying.

Teens, however, don’t share their parents’ worry.

Kristen Boesel, Senior Lifestyles Analyst

For teens, cyberbullying is a nuisance

While parents might be wringing their hands over the potential for their kids to be bullied online, teens are less concerned.

In our soon to be published research on marketing to Generation Z, Mintel asked teens about the most stressful elements in their lives and teens put cyberbullying at the bottom of the list. Only 9% of teens chose “online bullying/trolling” as one of their top three stressors, with only 3% of teens listing it as their biggest concern.

Data from the Pew Research Center identifies “offensive name calling” and “false rumors” as the most prevalent types of online harassment among teens. Since the dark days before the internet, bullies have always called names and “mean girls” have always spread rumors. Now they just have a new platform. Online harassment happens among teens, but for them it is the norm rather than the new threat that parents think it is.

Teens are less likely to find non-online bullying as stressful as trying to get good grades or keep up with everything they need to do. Nearly a quarter of teens worry about their appearance and trying to make other people happy.

The real threat could be coming from inside the house. Teens seem to have internalized the pressure to be the perfect products of snowplow parenting. More than nine in 10 teens agree that their parents expect them to do well in life and the same percentage of teens agree they want to make their family proud. However, only three in four teens agree that they feel good about their own future and fewer agree that “it’s okay to be average.”

Members of Gen Z have closer relationships with their parents than earlier generations, but there still seems to be a disconnect when it comes to teens’ real versus imagined fears. While tackling the issue of cyberbullying is admirable, it may not be a topic that resonates with both of these groups.

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