Who Is Exposed to Harmful Online Content? The Role of Risk and Protective Factors Among Czech, Finnish, and Spanish Adolescents

Abstract

Although adolescents’ exposure to harmful online content has been linked to decreased subjective well-being and offline risky behaviors, there is limited research on the factors that underlie such problematic online behavior. Using the conceptual framework of Problem Behavior Theory, this study examined the role of risk (i.e., emotional problems, sensation seeking) and protective (i.e., the quality of family environment, social support from friends) factors in exposure to harmful online content among 4473 12- to 16-year-olds (M = 13.9, SD = 1.3, 49% girls) in the Czech Republic, Finland, and Spain. Individual country samples included 1848 adolescents from the Czech Republic (age: M = 14, SD = 1.4; 51% girls), 788 from Finland (age: M = 13.9, SD = 1.3; 52% girls), and 1837 from Spain (age: M = 13.5, SD = 1.2; 47% girls). In all of the sampled countries, emotional problems and sensation seeking served as risk factors, whereas good family relationships were protective. In some countries, the effects of emotional problems and sensation seeking were moderated by the quality of the family environment and social support from friends. These moderating effects suggest that individual risk factors for exposure to harmful online content may be buffered by a positive family environment and friends’ support. The findings revealed similarities in the risk and protective factors underlying online problem behavior across three different countries. They demonstrate that the mechanisms proposed by Problem Behavior Theory can help to understand the etiology of adolescent problem behavior across different countries as well as offline and online contexts.

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Acknowledgements

The authors acknowledge the support of Eliska Dufkova, M.A., David Lacko, M.A., and the members of the EU Kids Online network.

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N.K. conceived of the study, participated in its design, contributed to the interpretation the data, drafted the paper, and performed the statistical analysis; D.S. conceived of the study, participated in the coordination of the study, helped with its design, contributed to the interpretation of the data, and helped to draft the paper; H.M. participated in the design of the study, the interpretation of the data, and the draft of the paper; K.S. participated in the interpretation of the data and helped draft the paper. All of the authors read and approved of the final paper.

Funding

This research was funded by Czech Science Foundation, grant number 19-27828X (project FUTURE).

Data Sharing and Declaration

The data are not currently available, but the EU Kids Online Network (https://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/research/research-projects/eu-kids-online) will publish them in the second half of 2021.

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Correspondence to Nikol Kvardova.

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All procedures performed in the study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committees, and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. In all countries where the data was collected, the administration of the questionnaire followed fundamental ethical guidelines and adhered to national rules and conditions.

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Kvardova, N., Smahel, D., Machackova, H. et al. Who Is Exposed to Harmful Online Content? The Role of Risk and Protective Factors Among Czech, Finnish, and Spanish Adolescents. J Youth Adolescence (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-021-01422-2

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Keywords

  • Harmful online content
  • Problem behavior theory
  • Emotional problems
  • Sensation seeking
  • Quality of family environment
  • Social support from friends