A study from Rochester Institute of Technology found that the perpetrators of cyber crime against adolescents are most often acquaintances, and that instances of â€œcyber bullyingâ€ begin as early as second grade.
Of more than 40,000 adolescents studies, 59 percent of victims of cyber crimes in grades seven through nine say the perpetrators are a â€œfriendâ€ they know personally. The survey found the perpetrator is significantly more likely to be a fellow student than an adult.
â€œMost people have long thought the perpetrators of cyber crime to be some â€˜boogey manâ€™ holed up in his attic, searching the Internet for children to prey on,â€ said Samuel McQuade, graduate program coordinator in RITâ€™s Center for Multidisciplinary Studies and lead researcher. â€œWhile that is certainly something to be feared, the startling new reality is todayâ€™s children are most frequently preying on each other onlineâ€”and their parents rarely have any idea itâ€™s happening.â€
McQuadeâ€™s research was designed to determine the nature and extent of cyber crime abuse and victimization by and among adolescents. The survey was administered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, varying by grade level, in 14 different school districts.
Survey results indicate that cyber bullyingâ€”sending threatening and nasty messagesâ€”begins as early as the second grade, peaks in middle school and sometimes continues through high school. Ten percent of second- and third-graders report having been bullied online, while 20 percent said they have been bullied.
The survey also found a prevalence of identity theft, even among adolescents. Twelve percent of fourth- through sixth-graders report having experienced someone pretending to be them online, and 13 percent report someone using their password or account without permission.
Illegally downloading music is also prevalent beginning in fourth grade, where 8 percent of those surveyed admitted to the act. Another 65 percent of those in 10th through 12th grade admit to illegally downloading music, and 34 percent admit to illegally downloading movies.
The research has repercussions for the classroom, as wellâ€”21 percent of students in grades 10 to 12 admitted using a computer or electronic device to cheat on a school assignment within the last school year. Twelve percent admitted using technology to commit plagiarism and 9 percent admit using an electronic device to cheat on an exam.
Adolescents, as young as kindergarteners, frequently come in contact with content that may be sexually oriented. Forty-eight percent of kindergarteners and first-graders reported viewing online content that made them feel uncomfortable, and one in four of these students did not report the incident to an adult.
Survey questions varied depending on the age group with older students revealing more specific information. Of the seventh- through ninth-graders surveyed, 14 percent reported they had communicated online about sexual things, 8 percent had been exposed to nude pictures and 7 percent had been asked to reveal nude pictures of themselves online.
Within the past year, students in grades 10 through 12 indicated that they used the Internet to interact with strangers in a variety of ways, including chatting (48 percent), flirting (25 percent), providing personal information (22 percent), talking about private things (17 percent) and engaging in sexually oriented chat (15 percent).
McQuade attributes much of the research data to the fact that many young people are more technologically astute than their parents and teachers.
â€œKids today grow up with this technology and are knowledgeable about it in ways that many of their parents and teachers, through no fault of their own, simply are not,â€ McQuade said.
Half of the students at the kindergarten and first-grade level report that their parents donâ€™t watch them when they use a computer. Only 32 percent of second- and third-graders surveyed report being watched by their parents when they go online.
McQuade and RIT have formed partnerships with more than 20 Rochester area school districts, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Time Warner Cable, the Information Systems Security Association and the InfraGard Member Alliance to form The Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to use the survey results to determine a comprehensive, community-wide approach to what McQuade calls tackling this increasing problem.
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