Fifteen years ago the Internet, or the World Wide Web as some still call it, was just catching on. People were learning to use the Internet on their computers; computers that ten years previous only existed on a scale that would be considered ridiculous in today’s standards. A lot has happened with the Internet in a very short period. While progress has brought about many good things, the ease and accessibility of the Internet has also brought with it some concerning and serious disadvantages. Many of those disadvantages directly affect our children. With the Internet, kids can have access to just about any content available any where in the world. That content is not always appropriate for young eyes or minds. The Rochester Institute of Technology wanted to see just what kind of an impact the Internet and the crimes committed thereon (called cybercrimes) had on kids of all ages. The research team asked kids as young as kindergarten age all the way through to high school aged kids about their experiences with cybercrimes and cyber bullying (bullying that happens through various Internet forums).
The RIT summarizes the results of their study as follows: “The majority of cyber offenses involving children, adolescents and young adults are perpetrated by peers of approximately the same age or grade level. The old paradigm of adults preying on children has been replaced with the new reality that kids now regularly prey on each other online.” In looking at the youngest age group of children that were either in kindergarten or the first grade, is was most concerning that only half of these children were being supervised while they were online and that more than one quarter of the children who have had experiences online that they felt uncomfortable about had not told their parents about it. To put this in perspective, these are five and six year old kids who are not telling their parents when they see something objectionable on the Internet. Looking at the second and third grade it was found that fewer children were being supervised when online and that not only were a greater number being bullied online but there were also 9% of respondents who admitted to being the ones who were doing the bullying to others.
Even more children in this age group reported having been exposed to objectionable content and still more of these children did not report their experiences to an adult. In the age group of fourth to sixth graders, less than a third of them were being supervised by a parent while online and a rise in participation in social networking circles was found. Children in this age group found themselves dealing with issues of distributing personal information, participating in illegal downloads, and being the perpetrator of cyber abuse.
Middle school and high school children followed similar patterns where the older they became the less supervised their interactions were online and the more personal and potentially dangerous those interactions became. Issues of academic dishonesty arose with this age group as well and the issues of dishonesty became more serious as they became older. For example 7th to 9th graders had 5% reporting that they participate in online plagiarism while 5% admitted to cheating on school work and 3% admitted to cheating on tests. In high school, 21% admitted using a computer or electronic device to cheat on a school assignment within the last school year. 12% admitted plagiarism and 9% reported having used a device to cheat on an exam. It seems that kids also became smarter in the ways that they found their way around any security system that their parents may have put in place as a type of monitor for their online activities. This point was proven when 12% of students in high school reported they circumvented computer security systems designed to filter or block their access to certain web sites.