I want to share some very encouraging research results that really shine a light on the difference online-safety education can make. At Yoursphere Media, Inc., we conducted a survey among our membership at our kids-only social network Yoursphere.com. Members that participated in the October 2011 survey were between the ages of 9 and 15 years of age.
After a youth-focused education campaign related to online privacy, cyberbullying, and sexting that we ran in Yoursphere.com, we queried our members to see what they had learned.
In response to the question “What is Cyberbullying?” 86 percent of our respondents knew that cyberbullying consists of mean text messages, rude online comments, and hurtful emails.
This shows that cyberbullying awareness messages (inside Yoursphere and outside) are getting across to kids, and they know what form it can take. If children can define cyberbullying, then there’s a better chance that they’ll report it if/when it happens to them.
When asked “What do you do when someone is mean to you online?” 84 percent of respondents replied that they should ignore the person and tell an adult or parent. We were excited to see that more kids know how to deal with a potential cyberbullying situation and aren’t afraid to let an adult know.
What I remain cautiously optimistic about, is whether or not kids will follow through with involving a parent or trusted adult if/when they are cyberbullied. While only time can tell, we at Yoursphere.com will continue to do all that we can to help kids feel comfortable coming to us. But we won’t always know if they’ve gone to an adult. It’s a simple fact that there is the admitted stigma to being labeled a “snitch”, and some kids might be too embarrassed or fearful to tell parents or an adult. That’s why it’s ever so important for parents to reiterate at home that this is the right thing to do.
Interestingly, 89% of respondents knew that there’s some type of age restriction related to being a Facebook or MySpace member. Yet they’re not all quite sure exactly what that age is: over half (58%) knew you need to be 13 to join, but 29% thought you had to be 18 or older. One in 10, however, thought there was no age restriction. I believe if parents were educated about the age restriction due to COPPA, the privacy law in place to protect children, then we could, together, move that to one in 1,000 kids not knowing the age rule.
Yoursphere kids understand the importance of privacy!
When asked “What kind of personal information is OK to post online?” 68 percent of respondents knew that they should only give out their first name online. They also knew that they shouldn’t give out their phone number, date of birth or home address under any circumstances. This shows that kids are becoming more educated about what information they should/should not give out online.
We make a point, as I’ve shared in the past, of doing our best to not allow our members to post personally identifiable information. What I found concerning, though, was the fact that 11 percent of respondents believed that it was okay for them to post and supply all that personal information. This clearly points out that that we (Yoursphere.com and parents) need to hammer home and explain what kind of personal “content” constitutes “private” information.
74 percent of kids know what to do if someone sends them an inappropriate photo online or to their phone. They said they’d tell and adult or parent, which is the right thing to do. However, 22% said they would just delete the photo. As parents and educators, we need to put an emphasis on the fact that just deleting the photo isn’t good enough. The person who sent the photo will keep sending them to other people; people who might not take the initiative to delete the photo. Involving an adult is key to solving the problem.
When asked “What do you do if someone you don’t know in real life asks you online for your phone number, to meet them in person or to keep a secret?” 88 percent of kids said they would tell an adult or parent.
This is a very encouraging statistic, but it is also a reminder that we need to be aware of the kids that are in the minority. After all, recent research validates the fact that 14% of kids will go out to meet a stranger in real life. Children who are lonely, bullied, seeking attention, or angry at their parents may be more likely to meet up with online strangers, and are thus more at risk.
Overall, the results of the survey are very positive, and continue to illustrate that education is key to a safer and more positive online experience for our children. The sooner we educate our kids, the better off they’ll be. That being said, I caution us all to remember that:
- While kids may know the right thing to do, they might not always do it – whether it’s from peer pressure, fear, or even laziness – so ever the more reason to continue reinforcing what positive and safe online interaction means at home.
- While we at Yoursphere may be seeing a younger generation of kids understand the importance of privacy, clearly so many don’t as evidenced by those (under the age of 13 or not) using sites like Facebook and sharing too much personal information. With their young lives already being made into a permanent record, it’s important we acknowledge this group of kids as “at risk” kids – at risk of unintentionally over exposing themselves. And in the world of Facebook, that’s a large number of kids that could clearly benefit from a much needed lesson in privacy.
- Collectively we need to work together to de-stigmatize the image of the “snitch” because this will help kids become more open to talking with adults about issues like sexting and cyberbullying. As a result, this will help educators and parents head off the problems before they loom large in the lives of our children.