Teens' Online Safety Improved by Education, Research Shows

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New research shows that teens' online safety is improved by education. Researchers from the University at Buffalo and University of Maryland surveyed 285 preteens and early teenagers, both male and female, to determine how important they thought it was to protect their privacy online and whether those beliefs affected what actions they took to protect that privacy.

Students were asked whether they protected their personal information on the Internet, whether they opened e-mails from unknown senders, and whether they downloaded files from unknown people or Web sites.

The researchers found that preteens and early teenagers who were educated on the importance of Internet privacy through school, parents, or the media were more likely to practice online safety than those who weren't. Among teachers, peers, and parents, parents were the most influential in delivering that education, according to respondents.

A surprising result of the study was that experiencing a privacy breach online didn't cause teens to improve their online safety practices, according to one of the researchers, H.R. Rao, professor of management science and systems in Buffalo's School of Management.

"Students who experience Internet privacy breaches or computer security problems show less protective behavior on the Internet," said Rao. "This increases the chances that they will be victims again in the future."

The study also showed that girls tend to practice more protective behavior on the Web than boys. The researchers said they believe this is because girls consider online privacy more important than boys do.

The study was supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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