Social networking sites such as MySpace, which offer unlimited opportunities for self-expression and self-promotion are particularly attractive to teenagers. Recently, public attention surrounding these sites has focused on the dangers of sexual solicitation or harassment of adolescents. Until recently, little verifiable data has existed to determine the scope of youth solicitation and harassment on-line. New research published in the journal Pediatrics demonstrates that while the incidence of solicitation and harassment is actually lower than has been suggested in the popular media, certain threats do exist, and greater safety risks actually may lie elsewhere on the net.
As part of this study, researchers surveyed 1,588 youths between the ages of 10 and 15 who had used the Internet at least once within the previous 6 months. In responding to their survey questions, 15% of the kids in the study reported that they had received an unwanted sexual advance on-line within the last year. Of that 15%, only 4% reported that the unwanted advance originated from a social networking site. Thirty-three percent of the participants reported having been harassed on-line within the last year — only 9% of which were related to social networking sites.
According to the survey data, significant threats seem to loom elsewhere in cyberspace — 43% of those participants who had been solicited on-line were solicited via instant messaging. Thirty-two percent had been solicited in a chatroom. Harassment was also more common while instant messaging — 55% had experienced harassment while sending and receiving instant messages.
In the interest of protecting children from solicitation and harassment on-line, the Internet safety website StaySafe.Org recommends the following:
"Keep your name, school, social security number, address, age, birthday, phone number, and names of family or friends to yourself.
Watch what information you share indirectly. That information could be your school mascot, when your favorite band played near your home, or any information that might help a dangerous person dig up other information about you. If someone knows what school you go to, they’re that much closer to finding out where you live.
Make your personal info your personal secret. If you do share it, and then realize that maybe you made a mistake, talk with your parents or an adult you know. They can help protect you if anything bad were to happen."
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