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Young people at threat online

Posted Wednesday 21 April 2010

Professor Julia Davidson said the findings should be a wake-up call to children, parents and policy-makers on the dangers of the internetOne in five children have been threatened or bullied through the internet, according to one of the UK's biggest surveys of young people's online behaviour. The study, led by Professor Julia Davidson of Kingston University in South West London, also found that a high proportion of children had engaged in high risk behaviour online such as sharing information with strangers.

Professor Davidson said the findings were of concern and should be a wake-up call to children, parents and policy-makers on the dangers of the internet. "A significant proportion of teenagers engage in behaviour that adults would consider risky, such as posting personal information and photos of themselves," she said. "This is often viewed as acceptable by young people. We need to better understand teenagers' online behaviour in order to develop more effective policy and safety practices."

More than 1,700 young people aged 11-16 from across the UK took part in the research. Commissioned by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the study examined young people's knowledge of internet safety and the impact of internet safety training including CEOP's ThinkUKnow (TUK) campaign.

Key findings include:

  • One in five young people have been threatened, bullied by peers or made to feel uncomfortable online
  • Almost a third of girls (28%) have been threatened online, compared to 13% of boys. Boys are twice as likely to do nothing in response to a threatening experience.
  •  Girls are at higher risk than boys because they use social functions of the internet like social networking sites and instant messaging more and they are more willing to share personal information with strangers   
  • Significant numbers of children said they have engaged in high risk behaviour online; more than a third have given their age and email address to someone they only knew online and more than one in five have shared their full name, where they go to school and photos of themselves. A substantial number say they would continue with such behaviour; for example a third say they are willing to continue sharing their email address.
  • Children, particularly teenagers, do not consider it risky to exchange messages or give information to strangers they have met online. Young people often do not know all of the 20-300 'friends' they list on social networking sites.
  •  Children taking TUK training in the previous two years are significantly more likely to take action. Pre-teens aged 11-12 were more likely than teenagers to say that TUK training made them more careful online.
  • Young people who have had TUK training were more likely to report threatening experiences to groups such as the TUK campaign or Childline. Almost all children (96%) said they would not arrange to meet a person they had met online.   

The survey found that almost a third of girls (28%) have been threatened online, compared to 13% of boys.


Professor Davidson said: "While organisations such as CEOP have worked hard to raise awareness of the dangers of the internet, there is still a lot of work to be done on understanding young people's, particularly teenagers', online behaviour and their use of technology such as the new generation of mobile phones."


Her recommendations include:

  • More training schemes for parents who want to know how to advise their children should be developed since parents and carers are one of the most common sources of online safety advice for children. Ceop offers advice to parents on its website.
  • Girls need to be targeted with tailored online safety training because they are more likely to be victims of grooming, bullying and threatening behaviour, particularly on social networking sites
  • Key internet safety messages need to be repeated because children's recall fades quickly over time
  • Internet safety advice should be advertised around schools on message boards and plasma screens, while teachers need to reinforce the message in lessons as part of the national curriculum

Download a full copy of the report from the website of the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) website.

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