Harvard Mental Health Letter

Protecting children and teens from cyber-harm

Certain patterns of behavior confer risk; here's what the research shows.

More than four in five adolescents currently own at least one type of electronic device, such as a cell phone, BlackBerry, personal data assistant, or computer. Many young people are using these devices to play online games, surf the Internet, send e-mail and instant messages, create blogs, or visit social networking sites.

As electronic media use has grown, so too have reports of electronic harassment, or "cyber-bullying," as well as sexual solicitation and other types of victimization. Studies use different definitions and measurement methods, but report that 9% to 34% of American adolescents are victims of online harassment (defined as bullying or insults, but not sexual solicitation), and 4% to 21% are perpetrators of online harassment. And a telephone survey of U.S. Internet users ages 10 to 17 found that 13% had received some type of sexual solicitation online in the past year, with 4% receiving aggressive solicitations in which the solicitor attempted to make contact offline.

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