Are Social Networking Sites Endangering Young Teens? Study Finds Maybe Not

Feb 04, 2008, 00:00 ET from Internet Solutions for Kids

    SANTA ANA, Calif., Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Youth may be more
 likely victimized while using instant messenger and visiting chat rooms
 than while using social networking sites, new research this week reports.
     The study, conducted by child health researchers Michele Ybarra of
 Internet Solutions for Kids and Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New
 Hampshire, set out to look at the places online where youth are most likely
 to experience sexual solicitation and harassment. The researchers, whose
 study is published in Pediatrics, found that among the almost 1600 children
 and adolescents 10-15 years-old surveyed nationally, 4% reported
 experiencing an unwanted sexual solicitation and 9% reported being harassed
 while on a social networking site. Solicitations were reported 59% more
 often in instant messaging however, and 19% more often in chat rooms than
 social networking sites. More surprising, harassments were reported 96%
 more often in instant messaging than in social networking sites. "Are
 victimizations happening in social networking sites? Yes," Ybarra explains,
 "but they're happening with greater frequency in instant messaging and chat
     The authors say the results serve as a warning for parents not to focus
 exclusively on social networking sites. "Internet safety is not just about
 whether your child is on MySpace or not. You should know what your children
 are doing on MySpace and Facebook. But you also need to know what your
 children are doing in school, after school, at parties, at the mall, online
 - basically all environments in which they engage. You can't just focus on
 one place and assume that your job is done."
     An estimated 15% of children and adolescents are targeted by unwanted
 sexual solicitation each year, including being asked to talk about sex,
 provide personal sexual information, or engage in sexual behavior online
 when they do not want to. Depending on the type of harassment and the age
 of the children surveyed, 9-30% of youth are harassed yearly. Current
 events have raised public awareness and concern about the risks young
 people face when they are in social networking sites. Most recent was the
 case of Megan Meier, a teenager who committed suicide after her online
 'boyfriend', an adult pretending to be her age, broke up with her. In an
 effort to protect the safety of children and adolescents, various laws have
 been proposed such as requiring social networking sites to introduce
 software capable of age verification.
     The latest study is good news for parents, Ybarra says. The majority of
 young people using the Internet are never harassed and never experience
 unwanted sexual solicitation. This includes social networking sites. Adults
 also need to understand that for many youth, Ybarra advises, their online
 world is an extension of their offline world. "Young people experiencing
 problems online are often experiencing problems offline as well. We need to
 make sure that we are giving them the support and tools to healthfully
 navigate across all environments, both online and offline."

SOURCE Internet Solutions for Kids