Nearly nine out of every ten teenagers have witnessed cruelty to others on social networks or treated others that way.

That disturbing statistic appears in a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, in conjunction with the Family Online Safety Institute and Cable in the Classroom.

Among the concerning numbers drawn from the survey:

  • 88 percent of social media-using teens have witnessed other users being mean or cruel on social networks;
  • 15 percent have been the target of online meanness;
  • More teens reported positive personal outcomes than negative ones from interactions on social networks — 78 percent reported at least one good outcome, while 41 percent mentioned at least one negative outcome;
  • 25 percent have had an experience on a social network that resulted in a face-to-face argument or confrontation with someone;
  • 22 percent have had an experience that ended their friendship with someone;
  • 13 percent have had an experience that caused a problem with their parents;
  • 13 percent have felt nervous about going to school the next day’
  • 8 percent have gotten into a physical fight with someone else because of something that happened on a social network;
  • 6 percent have gotten in trouble at school because of an experience on a social network; and
  • 19 percent have been bullied in the past year in some form –in person, online, by text, or by phone.

Data was mined from the 2011 Teens and Digital Citizenship Survey by Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, in which 799 teens aged 12 to 17 were polled from April 19 through July 14.

Family Online Safety Institute’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer Stephen Balkam spoke with AllFacebook about Facebook, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, and the dangers teens face online.

Balkam pointed out that an unintended danger posed by COPPA is that kids under the age of 13 who access Facebook, either with or without the help of their parents, often claim to be around 25 years old, which results in Facebook privacy settings defaulting to public, whereas the social network’s controls are much tighter for younger users.

On the role of parents, he mentioned that 86 percent of respondents said they received advice from their parents, and relied on them as their biggest influences, while 80 percent were friended by their parents on Facebook.

One of the challenges for teens, according to Balkam, is that with today’s technology, being online is 24/7 and part of being a teen growing up:

Phones are buzzing, Facebook alerts are popping, and there doesn’t seem to be much relief or refuge for kids anymore.

There’s a big debate going on in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill about revised rulings for COPPA. There have been arguments on all sides — extend (the minimum age for accessing online services) to 17, drop it altogether, 13 is just fine. The unintended consequence of COPPA are parents lying for their kids — two generations sitting down together to be deceitful online — which is not what the writers of COPPA had in mind.

Should Facebook make itself fully COPPA-compliant? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what resources and cost it would take. Or should Facebook work with others to overturn COPPA?

We are trying to create new norms of behavior on a platform that pretty much didn’t exist four or five years ago. It’s not surprising that we’re trying to make this up as we go along. This study was intended to give us older folks an eye into what’s going on and point it out to lawmakers so that they can think of what problems they are trying to solve before rushing into legislation.

Readers: What are your feelings on the age limit of 13 for the use of online service set by COPPA and the enforcement of it?

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