1 in 4 children are sexually harassed online — by their own friends

Modern youngsters checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds aren’t just bullied by strangers they meet online, but their friends, too.
Jan 12, 2016

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  • Modern youngsters checking their Facebook and Twitter feeds aren't just bullied by strangers they meet online, but their friends, too.

  • In fact, one in four children have been sexually harassed online by their friends, a new study found.

  • The study from Michigan State University found that girls and children with low self-control were more likely to be sexually harassed online. Overall, 24 percent of all the study's participants suffered from sexual harassment, Yahoo! News reported.

  • And a lot of that harassment came from a child's close friends, with many youngsters saying that their friends pressured them into talking about sex, according to the study, which surveyed 439 children from middle school and high school between the ages of 12 and 19.

  • "This is not to downplay the danger of paedophiles acting online, but it does draw attention to the potential threat of child sexual victimisation by the people our kids are closest to, the people they spend the greatest amount of time with online," Thomas J. Holt, an associate professor at MSU, told Yahoo! News.

  • Online sexual harassment has been a major issue for American parents in recent years with the rise of technology, which has also led to an increase in bullying, too. Sexual harassment may be even more common than traditional bullying since it can be done online with words, images and videos, TeensHealth explained.

  • Such gestures as making sexual jokes, writing sexual comments or sexting over messenger apps can constitute as sexual harassment, TeensHealth explained.

  • "For the person who is being targeted, though, it doesn't make much difference if something is called bullying or harassment," TeensHealth noted. "This kind of behavior is upsetting no matter what it's called. Like anyone who's being bullied, people who are sexually harassed can feel threatened and scared and experience a great deal of emotional stress."

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  • Many modern parents have tried to stay in touch with what their youngster does online. A new report from the Pew Research Center found that about 60 percent of parents check what websites their teen visits and look at their child's social media profiles, which are often an indicator of social interactions with friends online.

  • Other parents will also use parental controls to keep their teen from friending someone they haven't met in person, the Pew report said.

  • But the aforementioned MSU study found that certain parental controls online didn't help these Internet users avoid the sexual harassment issues.

  • That's why Holt of MSU suggested parents try to talk to their children about sexual harassment online to help curb the issues.

  • "Parents need to have that talk with their kids about what they are doing online and what people are asking them to do online," Holt told Yahoo! News. "That kind of open dialogue is one of the best things they can do to minimise the risk."

  • Part of that dialogue requires parents to learn about technology and ask their children for help understanding it, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Parents should also ask their children on a daily basis whether or not they used the Internet, and, if they did, what websites they visited.

  • Parents may also want to lead by example by showing their children smart Internet practices, and talking to their children about what responsible Internet users do online.

  • "For all ages, emphasize that everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the entire world, so it is important they use good judgment in sending messages and pictures and set privacy settings on social media sites appropriately," the AAP explained.

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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