14-15 year olds take most risks online

 January 31st 2014

14 and 15 year-olds are most likely to adopt risk-taking behaviours online, including sharing too much personal information. They are the group most likely to put themselves in potentially harmful situations and at risk of cyber-bullying.

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New research on risky online behaviour by teenagers has been released by internet security solutions provider McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA). It reveals that 14-15 year olds spend more time on social media than any other age group, with a fifth spending over four hours logged on every day. These teens risk making themselves more vulnerable to abusive and bullying behaviours by digitally exposing themselves through sharing too much personal information online; 11% had shared revealing videos or photos of themselves, one in ten had seen an inappropriate, revealing or pornographic image of someone they know online and 7% admitted to ‘liking’ an unkind image of someone they know.

With this age group such prolific users of the internet, it is perhaps unsurprising that findings show this age group are putting themselves in potentially harmful situations by engaging in inappropriate behaviours online; and are most likely to access dangerous content, be exposed to cruel or mean behaviour and encounter unwelcome adult attention. 23% of those surveyed had seen a pornographic image online of someone they did not know, and 19% confessed to visiting a website that their parents would not approve of. Over a half of those surveyed also confessed to hiding their online activity from parents, with nearly a quarter actively deleting their browsing history.

Consequences not understood

Findings also showed that children and young people clearly need help to understand what is and is not appropriate behaviour online, and with recognising the potential consequences of their action. Around 34% of respondents had witnessed cruel behaviour online, whilst 22% had been subjected to it themselves, half of whom admitted it left them feeling upset or angry. 15% had been on the receiving end of foul or abusive comments and 7% had been told they were fat or ugly. Peer pressure was also most prevalent for this age group, with 19% of respondents admitting they had looked up sexual, violent and other inappropriate content due to pressure from friends, girlfriends and boyfriends.

The same age group displayed a need to be guided on online etiquette; to clearly understand the difference between ‘banter’ and bullying; only 23% were able to see that their cruel and abusive comments may be considered mean to the person on the receiving end, with the same number seeing these comments as ‘just banter’.

When it came to 'stranger danger', one in ten 14-15 year olds had been approached by an adult they did not know online. Disturbingly, nearly one third of those teens approached had then shared inappropriate things such as pictures of themselves with that stranger which they later regretted. More worrying still, a fifth reported meeting that adult in person before realising the relationship was inappropriate.

McAfee Cyber Security Expert Raj Samani commented: “Protecting your child online is an absolute minefield, with easy access to the net through smartphones, tablets and computers, parents need to strike a balance between social freedom and security for teens. This report highlights the growing need for parents to have frank conversations with their children around threats online, net etiquette and the nature of cyber-bullying, as well as ensuring that household devices are as effectively secured as possible from questionable content.”

Luke Roberts, National Coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance said: “The digital world is one inhabited by most young people on a daily basis, yet they are clearly struggling to understand online etiquettes, what appropriate online behaviour is, or how to keep safe. Our findings highlight the dangers of digital exposure. They suggest that young people, particularly young teenagers, are displaying risk-taking behaviours and freely sharing information with what is essentially a global, and sometimes anonymous, mass audience, without grasping the permanence of these exchanges."

Mr Roberts continued: "By making private information public property, young people are exposing themselves to comment and attention from others, without necessarily having the skills to deal with potential situations which might arise from these online interactions. As adults it is our responsibility to teach children and young people digital skills and set boundaries so they are able to realise the huge benefits and opportunities that the internet offers in terms of accessing information and making friends, but also ensures that they are safe and free from being bullied both online and offline.”

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