Despite media reports suggesting an increase in
the amount and intensity of online bullying, it’s
no more common or distressing than it was
three years ago, Ybarra’s data show.
or harassment also reported high levels of distress, she found.
Given that other research she and others have conducted
shows that young people harassed and bullied online are more
likely to be bullied off line and to report more depression,
suicidal ideation, alcohol use, social problems and poor
caregiver relations, better monitoring to more quickly identify
struggling youth is warranted, she said.
“These data suggest that some young people who are being
harassed and bullied online are likely facing multiple challenges
across multiple areas,” she said.
What about sex?
The newer technologies also don’t appear to be driving many
more children and teens into accessing sexual content, Ybarra’s
data show. For the most part, they are still finding it the old-
fashioned way: in TV shows, movies and music. Some 75
percent of young people said that at least some of the TV shows
and movies they watched showed people kissing, fondling
or having sex, while 69 percent said songs they listened to
contained sexual content. By comparison, 19 percent of youth
said that at least some of the games they played showed people
kissing, fondling or having sex, and 25 percent said at least some
of the websites they go to featured similar material.
“Yes, they’re being exposed to sex online, and yes, they’re
being exposed to sex in video games,” she said. “But if you want
to affect the rates of young people’s exposure to sexual material,
I’d focus on television and music.”
Ybarra’s data also show that teens’ rates of watching
pornography rises by age but not across time. For instance, in
2010, young people were no more likely to visit X-rated websites
than they were in 2006, although as they got older, they were
more likely to seek it out.
“That’s what you’d expect. These trends match the
developmental trajectory of typical adolescent sexual
development,” she said.
Sexting, too, fails to match the hype, Ybarra said. According
to Positive Youth Development, an ongoing study of 3,777
young people funded by the National Institute of Child Health
and Development, only 3 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls
ages 13 to 18 reported sexting — sending or showing someone
Girls were twice as likely to sext as boys, and sexting increases as
young people get older.
Because sexting is strongly associated with other types
of sexual behavior including kissing, fondling and oral sex,
sexting may be a marker of risky sexual behavior more
generally, she added. But it’s unclear whether the behavior of
this small group should provoke serious worry, or whether
in some cases it is simply a normal expression of developing
sexuality, Ybarra said. In fact, stalking — both in person
and via all technology types — is much more prevalent
than sexting. And because stalking in any form is unwanted,
unsolicited and potentially dangerous, it represents greater
cause for concern, she said.
The bright side
Despite doom-and-gloom prognoses about young people’s
entanglement with these technologies, they actually offer a
wealth of ways to promote this age group’s mental, social and
physical well-being, Ybarra said. Examples include exercise
programs like “Dance Dance Revolution” and websites for
young people with chronic illnesses that can help them
understand and manage their conditions.
Technology can likewise be a powerful social tool for young
people, especially those who might feel isolated, her data show.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, for instance, are
more likely than heterosexual youth to report using the Internet
to make friends. They’re also much more likely to say their
online friends listen better and are more understanding, less
judgmental and more likely to let them be themselves.
In sum, while new technologies might land some youngsters
in more trouble than they would have gotten in otherwise, the
Internet and cellphone are at least as likely to be a boon for this
age group, Ybarra concluded.
“For young people who may feel more isolated and socially
stigmatized — and in fact for young people in general — the
Internet may be an incredibly positive influence that allows them
to make friends and connect with others in healthy ways.” n