Junior high school aged children are at a particularly sensitive point in life where puberty is beginning, emotions are running wild, physical changes are taking place, school curriculum is becoming more challenging and much more. On top of all the stresses and pressures of simply being this age, are the added challenges that socializing on and surfing the Internet bring. With these children gaining more independence from their parents, there is a dangerous mix of lacking parental involvement and a desire to experiment with boundaries. The Internet is often to blame for throwing fire on an already blazing fire. Naturally, all these elements combine to create a world of threats that did not exist when we were younger. In a recent research study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) children in the seventh to ninth grade age group were asked a serious of questions, the responses of which brought to light some interesting and disturbing trends related to adolescence and the Internet.
Of the seventh, eighth and ninth grade students who participated in the RIT cybercrimes study, 34% reported that they were able to use the Internet with no supervision, another 36% report receiving only a little supervision. Almost half (42%) of the children asked reported that they had spoken with at least one stranger online within the past year. When it comes to sharing personal information, it was found that 39% of the children have posted photos of themselves, 36% have posted their real names, 14% have posted their schedules and personal contact information. If those dangers aren’t real enough for you, maybe you would find it interesting to know that 9% of the kids have accepted an online invitation to meet someone in-person and 10% have asked someone online to meet them in-person. Remember these are thirteen, fourteen and fifteen year old children agreeing to physically meet with people that they have never met before.
When it comes to cyber bullying, 15% of the kids have reported being embarrassed online and 13% indicate that they had been bullied or threatened online (4% admitted to intentionally embarrassing another person online and 4% admitted to harassing or threatening another person online). As this is the age where sexual interest begins to become part of the child’s thoughts, it is pertinent to pay closer attention to the comments and actions that occur online that are sexual in nature. Of the middle school students asked, 14% reported that they had communicated with someone online about sexual things; 11% of students reported that they had been asked to talk about sexual things online; 8% have been exposed to nude pictures and 7% were also asked for nude pictures of themselves online. When asked about the perpetrators of these solicitations, those asked told researchers that they were more likely to be victimized by other students rather than by adults. By a small margin most of those who were labeled as the offenders were girls (at 46%) while 42% of the time they were boys. However, it is important to note that these percentages came from only about 12% of known cyber offenders whose gender was identified by the students.
Illegal downloading became more prevalent in middle school age kids than in elementary school age kids with 22% of middle school students having illegally downloaded music within the last school year.
Other interesting statistics that were gathered from the RIT research on cybercrimes include that 11% of the questioned students in this age group pretended to be someone else online,
5% admitted to online plagiarism; 5% admitted to cheating on school work and 3% admitted to cheating on tests.