Cyber survey: Kids in harm’s way
By Michele E. Cutri-Bynoe, correspondent
Rochester New York
Fri Jun 13, 2008, 09:40 AM EDT
Canandaigua, N.Y. -
A recent survey of Canandaigua students found that children as young as kindergarten surf the Internet, with some exposed to material they said made them uncomfortable.
Among other findings: Cyber bullying — sending threatening or demeaning messages — starts as early as second grade and peaks in middle school.
Canandaigua was one of 14 districts that took part in and helped pay for the far-reaching survey of children’s online experiences. Rochester Institute of Technology researchers surveyed some 40,000 students and hundreds of teachers as part of the Rochester Regional Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative. A full report on all school results will be released in July, said Samuel McQuade, graduate program coordinator at RIT’s Center for Multidisciplinary Studies.
“There’s never been a study like this,” he said. “It’s the largest and most comprehensive study of its kind.”
McQuade said people often hear of predators using the Internet to lure children into meetings, but he and his colleagues wanted to learn the full scope of children’s behavior online.
“We’ve suspected for a long time, there was much more going on,” he said.
The goal is to get a handle on what children are doing online and offer tools so children can be taught to keep their information and themselves safe, McQuade said.
The Canandaigua school board got a sample of its raw numbers late last month and is awaiting the analysis of all district results, as well as information on cyber education resources.
Teachers and students were surveyed last fall. Of the 3,988 students enrolled in the fall of 2007 in the Canandaigua School District, 3,176 students participated, though not all the students answered all of the questions. Researchers grouped their results by age. Here are some of the findings.
The survey results showed that, even in kindergarten and first grade, kids have access to home computers. More than half of these children use them to surf the Internet.
A total of 129 of the 244 kindergartners and first-graders reported seeing things on the Internet that made them uncomfortable.
In second and third grades, 255 of 263 children joined the online gaming craze. Kids reported being exposed to sexual Internet communications as early as the second grade. Thirty-one out of 262 second- and third-graders were asked online to describe private things about their bodies. Twenty-three children reported being exposed to private things about someone else’s body. Cyber bullying was experienced by 47 kids — some were bullied by their own friends. Thirteen kids admitted to bullying.
For the most part, these younger kids were protected by their lack of reading and writing skills, which limited their ability to understand written content or to participate in chat rooms. Although children of any age can fall prey to online abuse, the survey showed that the potential increased as they become more proficient with their language skills and acquired Internet communication skills.
The survey showed, crimes such as illegal pirating of music, movies and software, began for many in the fourth grade.
Although risky behavior was low for 587 kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, a significant number were and still could be victimized by having posted personal information on the Internet. Personal interests were posted online by 81 out of 585 who answered the question, physical activities were posted by 58 out of 583, real names were used by 93, and 146 kids out of 587 said they lied about their age online.
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders were also asked whether they had been victimized in any way online. Of the approximately 580 children who responded:
• 58 said someone used their password without their knowledge.
• 46 said their computers, cell phones, game consoles or other electronic equipment had been stolen.
• 41 had been embarrassed online.
• 29 had been threatened or bullied.
• 14 were exposed to nude pictures or private things about someone else’s body.
• 8 were asked private things about their bodies.
• 5 were asked for nude pictures of themselves.
Middle and high school
From the middle school to the Academy, kids experienced all forms of online abuse either as victims or perpetrators.
Although cyber bullying is known to continue beyond high school, the survey showed that it peaked during middle school. Cyber bullying and abuse were more common with seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders.
About 870 students in seventh through ninth grades were asked if they had done something they shouldn’t have online. The results were as follows:
• 61 said they bypassed security controls designed to keep them off certain Web sites.
• 35 embarrassed someone online.
• 43 threatened or harassed someone.
• 35 requested nude photos.
• 96 pretended to be someone else.
• 262 lied about their age.
• 43 admitted to online plagiarism.
As for the victims in this age group:
• 126 had someone impersonate them online.
• 117 reported being bullied.
Many of the victims knew the perpetrator. Some 268 reported that they had been victimized by friends.
In grades 10 through 12, fewer kids engaged in cyber bullying, but 380 kids out of 844 did engage in some form of online abuse. For example 97 admitted bypassing security measures, 451 said they downloaded music illegally and 225 said they downloaded movies illegally.
Being harassed and/or stalked online was reported by 113 kids out of 707 in this age group. Unwanted pornography was reported by 141 kids out of 709 who answered this question.
Of 520 students questioned about chatting online with strangers, 260 said they had done so.
Four in five staff members agreed that student use of electronic devices for nonacademic purposes posed a significant problem.
According to the survey, many staff members had no idea what protection school administrators had in place to prevent school computers from being abused and to keep kids safe online. One out of every six staff members felt they couldn’t supervise student use of school computers properly.
Though the study included any online activity, whether at home, school or elsewhere, spokesman Andy Thomas said material on district computers is filtered.
“The district has a powerful filter system, run through BOCES, that is excellent at preventing inappropriate sites from being accessed, including the Facebook types,” he said in a written statement.
“All student computer usage is monitored in classes and labs,” Thomas wrote. “Student access is password protected. All students and staff sign appropriate Internet usage protocol document(s). District Web site does not post identifiable student photos with names attached, etc.”
More information on the survey is available at the Rochester Regional Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative Web site: www.rrcsei.org