The Internet is an exciting new territory for many young people. Nearly 24 million youth ages 10 through 17 were online regularly in 1999, and millions more are expected to join them shortly. They go there to Iearn, play, meet people, and explore the world. But stories from law-enforcement officials, parents, and young people themselves suggest that not every online adventure is a happy one. The Internet has a seamier side that young people seem to he encountering with great frequency.
This national survey confirms many of the stories. Large numbers of young people are encountering sexual solicitations they did not want, sexual material they did not seek, and people who threatened and harassed them in a variety of ways. While many are able to glide past these encounters as mere litter on the information super highway, some experience them as real collisions with a reality they did not expect and were distressed to find. Some of these young people report being upset and afraid in the wake of their encounters and have elevated symptoms of stress and depression.
This report describes the variety of disconcerting experiences young lnternet users say they have online and ways they react. It also provides a window into how families and young people are addressing matters of danger and protection on the Internet. Some of the news is reassuring. At the same time, it suggests that the seamy side of the Internet spills into the lives of an uncomfortably large number of youth and relatively few families or young people do much about it. It highlights a great need for private and public initiatives to raise awareness and provide solutions.
Nothing in this report contradicts the increasingly well-documented fact that youth and their families are excited about the Internet and its possibilities. They are voting for the Internet with their fingers and pocket books, even as they are aware of some of its drawbacks. But because it is destined to play such an important role in the lives of those growing up today, the question of how to temper some of the drawbacks of this revolutionary medium is worthy of thorough consideration now at the dawn of its development.
Crimes against Children Research Center
David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, & Janis Wolak. Online victimization: A report on the nation’s youth. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Bulletin - #6-00-020. Alexandria, VA.