It’s important to understand the real risks young people face on the Internet, especially in regards to sexual exploitation. Who is at risk of sexual harm and why? What activities are markers for higher risk and how can we protect those youth who are most vulnerable. This section explores these topics.
Teens and preteens are at the heart of the social Internet interacting with others through chat, instant messaging, social networking sites, in virtual worlds and online multi-player games. It is inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.
As adults, we want to foster resilience in young people, starting when they’re young. This can be done by teaching them how to handle harassing messages or requests that make them feel uncomfortable – on the Internet or in the schoolyard – and, as they get older, by teaching them how to spot and respond to emotional manipulation. The good news is that most teens are effectively handling online requests from strangers – the bigger challenge is helping them handle sexual advances from people they know.
In my previous post I briefly mentioned the issue of passwords. The topic of passwords may not be as top-of-mind as sexting or bullying, but it’s important, and it definitely deserves some attention at home. Consider this the next topic for your dinnertime conversation.
Initiated in 2000 by MediaSmarts, Young Canadians in a Wired World is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging study of its kind in Canada. The research project tracks and investigates the behaviours, attitudes, and opinions of Canadian children and youth with respect to their use of the Internet.
Recent research has shown that not all youth are equally at risk online, nor are all online activities equally risky. Rather, there are certain characteristics and online activities that could be considered risk markers – indications that someone is likely to take risks online and fall victim to online sexual solicitation. Many of these markers are the same as those used in the identification of at-risk youth; in general, the same youth are at risk online as offline.
TV, music and movies have been a central part of young people’s lives for generations, and the Internet has only intensified that by delivering all of those directly to our homes – legally and illegally.
Despite their enthusiastic participation in social media, it’s a mistake to think that young people don’t care about privacy. MediaSmarts’ 2014 study Young Canadians in a Wired World, which surveyed over 5,000 students across Canada on their experiences with and attitudes towards digital media, found that they do have very strong feelings about their privacy, and take significant steps to control it.