Adolescent Coping Strategies in the Face Of Their “Worst Online Experience”

Adolescent Coping Strategies in the Face Of Their “Worst Online Experience”

Minas Michikyan, Fantasy T. Lozada, Jennifer V. Weidenbenner, Brendesha M. Tynes
DOI: 10.4018/ijgcms.2014100101
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Adolescents' increased use of virtual environments (e.g., online games, social networking sites) provides opportunities for social and emotional learning and development. Negative online experiences in particular require adolescents to use social and emotional competencies to navigate these experiences. The present study used qualitative methods to describe adolescents' (N = 245; Median age ˜ 16) worst online experiences and to examine their coping strategies in managing these experiences. Results indicated that adolescents most frequently described negative experiences with themes of sexual and relational harassment, online stalking and feuds, followed by ethnic/racial harassment, online fraud, bystander experiences, and technical issues. Adolescents' coping strategies with these experiences included direct problem solving, positive cognitive restructuring, distraction, avoidance, and support seeking. Gender and white vs ethnic minority differences in negative online experience types and coping strategies were examined. Findings extend work that explores the application of offline coping strategies to virtual environments.
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The Internet plays an important role in adolescents’ daily lives (Pew Research, 2013). Over 95% of youth in the United States aged 12-17 use the Internet and 80% of this group use virtual environments1 such as Facebook and Twitter (Madden et al., 2013). These online contexts provide new platforms for adolescents to carry out developmental tasks and to engage in social interaction (Michikyan & Subrahmanyam, 2012; Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2011). While there are many benefits to these interactions (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2011), there is a growing body of work that shows that their experiences often include negative social encounters such as online harassment victimization (Jones, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2013). Research suggests that victimization online is associated with poor well-being (Barchia & Bussey, 2010; Schenk & Fremouw, 2012; Ybarra, 2004) and problem behavior (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007; Suzuki, Asaga, Sourander, Hoven, & Mandell, 2012). These negative outcomes are likely due to adolescents’ negative affect and perception of a devalued social identity (Beran & Li, 2005; DeHue, Bolman, & Volink, 2008). Despite the concern for the impact of online harassment on adolescent health and adjustment (Mitchell, Ybarra, & Finkelhor, 2007; Jones et al., 2013), we know little about the coping strategies this population chooses to use to negotiate social experiences in virtual environments. Using adolescents’ own words, the present study explored their negative online experiences and the array of coping strategies they employed to navigate these events. Such an in-depth analysis of youth’s online social interactions can provide a unique window into their psychological world (Greenfield & Yan, 2006), and illuminate their perceived ability to “hold their own” in these virtual spaces.

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