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Blog Safety for Children in the Digital World Published: 03 Jun 2024

German Project Explores Youth Perceptions of Online Communication Stress and Coping Strategies

How do young people cope with stressful online experiences? As part of the German project #SIKID (Safety for Children in the Digital World) Kira Thiel and Claudia Lampert from the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) conducted a qualitative study exploring how adolescents deal with negative online experiences. A particular focus is on the phenomena of cyberbullying, cybergrooming, hate speech and cyber sexual harassment. We summarised their findings for you.

The main topics/questions of the study included:

  • Stressful online experiences: What stressful experiences have young people themselves experienced in online interaction contexts?

  • Stress factors: What are personal boundary violations from the perspective of young people?

  • Coping: What are personal boundary violations from the perspective of young people?

  • Support options: What support options are the respondents aware of?

  • Effectiveness: Which coping strategies are perceived as helpful in which context



In the summer of 2022, qualitative interviews were carried out with 16 young people between the ages of 12 and 17, specifically targeting adolescents who had already had a negative (from their perspective) online interactions. The interviews provide nuanced insights into the complexity of young people's online experiences and highlight their need for support from parents, educators, platform providers, police, etc.

Key Findings

Experiences of interaction risks, including hurtful behaviour, such as cyberbullying, sexual harassment or cybergrooming, vary in frequency, situational appraisal, stress intensity and emotional involvement. Phenomena that can be assigned to the same risk area (e.g. aggressive behavior) can look very different


Factors that can influence the assessment and experience of a risk situation

In response to stressful online experiences, children and young people employ various coping strategies. Some use strategies targeting the stressor (e.g., blocking, passive avoidance strategies or confrontation), while others try to ignore it. The interviews also revealed cognitive and emotional regulation strategies (e.g., devaluing the stressor, distracting oneself, or focusing on something positive). Emotional regulation is used in situations that feel emotionally stressful for young people. Young people develop platform-specific preventive strategies (like checking the snapscore of users, to evaluate if they’re safe to interact with).


In terms of social support and help services, the interviews revealed there is 'cascade of support'. This means that when individual coping efforts fail, adolescents first tend to seek help from people they know, such as parents and friends. Only when these are not perceived as an appropriate source of support or cannot help do young people consider turning to more distant actors and groups (e.g., counsellors or psychologists) for support.

Some young people prioritise instrumental and informational support (e.g., solving the problem together or getting advice and further information), others primarily seek emotional support. According to the young people interviewed, the most critical aspects of adequate support are unprejudiced listening, confidentiality, and reassurance that their concerns and needs are taken seriously. Young people often appear unaware of their rights in the digital space and how to assert them (e.g., when to involve the police).


  • Raising young people's awareness of their rights in the digital space & promoting solidarity with victims (no “victim blaming”)

  • Empowering young people to demonstrate digital self-assertiveness and civil courage, e.g. through counter-speech strategies

  • Promoting prosocial skills and empathy, especially in a peer context

  • Educational approaches should expand resilience and teach children about different ways to cope with online risks.

>> Link to the Executive Summary

Reference: Thiel, Kira; Lampert, Claudia (2023): Wahrnehmung, Bewertung und Bewältigung belastender Online-Erfahrungen von Jugendlichen. Eine qualitative Studie im Rahmen des Projekts „SIKID – Sicherheit für Kinder in der digitalen Welt“. Hamburg: Verlag Hans-Bredow-Institut, Mai 2023 (Arbeitspapiere des Hans-Bredow-Instituts | Projektergebnisse Nr. 65). DOI:

For further questions on the study, please contact

SIKID is a research project involving the University of Tübingen, the Technical University of Berlin and the Leibniz Institute for Media Research/Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI). It is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

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