A new independent survey of 1 065 children age 9-17 across Canada has revealed that too many of them still engage in risky Internet behaviour - especially on social networking sites.
Sponsored by Microsoft Canada and carried out by Youthography, the study provides insight into the way young people use the Internet. The results show that while the Internet is an overwhelmingly positive force in the lives of Canadian youth and most of them are aware of potential dangers, too many children and teens still engage in risky behaviour while online.
For the most part, youth rely on the Internet to communicate with friends and family, research information for homework and play games. They are concerned about Internet safety and more than three-quarters of them are very careful about the personal information they give out online.
A positive revelation is that parents are becoming more engaged in their children's online activities, compared to previous findings, with 84 percent of respondents saying they have had a discussion with their parents about the potential dangers of risky online behaviour. 86 percent say their parents have taken measures to ensure they are safe online, such as locating the computer in visible locations like the family room or kitchen, rather than in a child's room.
But the survey identified a number of key areas where Canadian youth continue to put themselves at risk, including:
* Youth post personal information for public view, such as a profile picture (39 percent), home town (16 percent), name of school (20 percent), relationship status (22 percent), and e-mail address (21 percent) to social networking sites. Sharing more than one of these pieces of data can allow predators to easily uncover someone's real identity.
* 30 percent of youth have lied about their age on a social networking site; 15 percent have pretended to be someone they are not, and more than 30 percent have accepted a friend request from a stranger.
Adult Content and Sexual Behaviour
* 1 in 4 males use search engines to find adult sexual content.
* More than 20 percent of youth visit sites that have pictures or videos showing violent acts, fighting, or racist content.
* 40 percent of youth have been bullied online, up from Microsoft's research in 2004 where 25 percent of respondents reported being cyberbullied. 16 percent admit to being the bully and of those, 50 percent say they did it because they were bullied first.
* In general, 67 percent believe others bully online because they can do it without getting caught and 63 percent believe that the same kids who bully online usually bully in person.
* 1 in 5 of those who play games in online communities has made contact (phone, email, in-person) with someone they have only ever met online gaming.
* 1 in 4 youth has been harassed when online gaming.
* Forty-five percent of teens and 27 percent of 'tweens go to cyberspace to escape their problems, avoid family, deal with stress, relieve anxiety, deal with sadness or depression or feed their online addiction.
* Youth, especially 'tweens are concerned about online safety, more so than drugs, alcohol, smoking, body image or sexually transmitted diseases.
"This is Microsoft Canada's fourth iteration of online safety research and we believe this study offers one of the most comprehensive looks yet at the online activities of Canadian youth including gaming, cyberbullying and social networking," said Gavin Thompson, Director of Corporate Citizenship, Microsoft Canada.
"There are many encouraging results in the research, including the fact that youth rank online safety as a very important issue and that a majority of youth are making smart choices online. Despite this good news, many youth still engage in risky online behaviour. Microsoft Canada has made online safety and security one of our highest priorities and we recognize that as a leader in our industry we have a responsibility to do all we can to make it a safer place - especially for our children."
"It is important for parents to be involved in their children's lives, which includes their on-line and videogame activities, as much as knowing about their friends, sports, music lessons and other things going on in their lives. It is also important to educate youth about the positives and the pitfalls of the cyberworld - but to do so, adults need to understand it first and to see how it has influenced their own activities, family values and work actions," said Dr. Bruce Ballon, Head of the Adolescent Clinical Education Service (ACES) for Problem Gambling, Gaming and Internet Use at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).