An increasing number of teenagers get discouraged to talk to their parents about potentially risky online experiences, such as cyberbullying, sexual exchanges and viewing inappropriate content online, because parents tend to emote much stronger feelings and tend to freak out, become angry or scared, researchers have found.
The study showed that parents and children often have much different perceptions of and reactions to the same online situations.
"There seems to be a disconnect between what types of situations teenagers experience every day and what types of experiences parents have online," said Pamela Wisniewski, Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida in the US.
"Teenagers tended to be more nonchalant and say that the incident made them embarrassed, while parents, even though they were reporting more low-risk events, emoted much stronger feelings, becoming angry and scared.
"For teenagers, some felt these types of experiences were just par for the course," Wisniewski added, in the study, presented at the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Oregon.
Parents who overreact, when their children report any such events, are likely to curb communication as when risky situation are reported to parents, they tend to freak out and make things worse, causing teenagers to refrain from talking about situations that may upset their parents.
"When teenagers actually talked to their parents about what had happened, they often wanted help understanding or navigating the situation, but parents tended to misinterpret their intent, not realising that their teenagers were trying to open lines of communication," Wisniewski said.
Parental reactions – both over or under reactions – may not just thwart teenagers from seeking their parents' help with a current problem, but also diminish the teenagers' ability to successfully navigate future online encounters that may be even more risky, the researchers revealed.