Survey explores risky internet behaviors by middle schoolers

iStock_000012608964XSmallJust as there are clusters of risky health behaviors such as using both tobacco and alcohol, researchers say adolescents also seem to engage in clusters of risky internet behaviors.

Middle schoolers who post their pictures online were more likely than those who did not post their pictures online to post the name of their school, post their email address, send their picture to someone they had met online and receive an email or instant message from a stranger, according to a recent study in the Journal of School Health.

Students who posted their picture online reported playing more online jokes on friends and family compared to those who did not post their picture. They were also more likely to keek out sex sites and to override filters and blockers.

Posting a single piece of personal information online does not, by itself, appear to be a particularly risk behavior, the researchers write. However, the clustering of several risky behaviors my place vulnerable youth in jeopardy when a picture is posted online.”

The study was based on the responses of 404 students to the Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS). The students, both boys and girls, ranged in age from 12 to 16 with a median age of 12.74 years. They attended a public school or a parochial school in a middle to upper-class suburban area district in the Northeast.

Of all respondents, 31% of boys and 27% of girls said they posted personal information online. One fifth of students posted their email addresses on their social network profile. Girls reported spending significantly more time on the internet than boys and on a scale of 1-5 girls rated the internet as more important to them (3.14 vs. 2.69). Boys in the study preferred directly socializing with peers whereas girls preferred to socialize vial their computers, the study reports.

At home, 16.4% of boys and 12.7% of girls said they had gotten in trouble due to the internet. Boys said they had gotten in trouble for accessing a porn site (26.7%) and girls said they had gotten in trouble for spending too much time online (30.8%).

“Clustering of Internet Risk Behaviors in a Middle School Student Population,” by Elizabeth Dowell et al., Journal of School Health, Volume 79, Number 11, November 2009, pp. 547-553.


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