A recent study conducted by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, “Trends in Youth Internet Victimization: Findings From Three Youth Internet Safety Surveys 2000–2010,” suggests that unwanted exposure to online sexual content and abuse has been on the decline for youth.
In 2005, 13 percent of youth were receiving unwanted sexual requests online. That number has decreased to 9 percent in 2010. There was also a decline in youth who were exposed to unwanted online sexual content to 23 percent from 34 percent during the same time period.
“The constant news about Internet dangers may give the impression that all Internet problems have been getting worse for youth but actually that is not the case,” said lead author Lisa Jones, research associate professor of psychology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center. “The online environment may be improving.”
There is also an all-time high number of youth online, along with a large majority of them who are avid social media users. According to a recent Pew report, 95% of teens aged 12 to 17 are online and 80% of them have profiles on social media websites.
And while we are seeing less sexual exploitation, online harassment increased from 9 percent to 11 percent between 2005 and 2010.
It is important to note though, that online harassment doesn’t necessarily mean cyberbullying. The youth who were asked about online harassment were asked, “Did you ever feel worried or threatened because someone was bothering or harassing you online?” Had the question been as simple as “have you ever been harassed online?” or “have you ever been cyberbullied?,” I suspect the numbers would have been slightly higher.
Jones points out that with so much attention toward online harassment, people speaking out about the issue could help decrease its prevalence.
“Hopefully, the new focus on online harassment will produce some of the same improvements in this problem that we have seen in sexual solicitations,” she said.
As Larry Magid wrote on Safe Kids, websites like Facebook could very well be distracting youth from more dangerous and sexually driven parts of the Internet, like the anonymous late-night chatrooms that were popular in the earlier years of social media. Magid’s theory is not one that is backed by stats and numbers, but does seem probable. Since websites like Facebook do not allow nudity or sexual content, kids are far less likely to stumble upon pornography there. Perhaps Facebook and social media have been the answer to some of the Internet’s risks after all.
“Trends in Youth Internet Victimization: Findings From Three Youth Internet Safety Surveys 2000–2010” was based on national surveys of youth aged 10 to 17 which were conducted in 2000, 2005 and 2010.
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