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Mostly good news about kids online, study finds

Research shows that unwanted sexual requests and unwanted exposure to pornography have declined, but there's a slight increase in reports of online harassment.

Trends in unwanted online experiences
Lisa Jones et al. /Journal of Adolescent Health

A report from the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center shows a significant decrease in "unwanted online sexual solicitation" as well as "unwanted exposure to pornography" in recent years among children ages 10 to 17 years old. There was a small increase in online harassment.

Nine percent of respondents reported getting an unwanted sexual solicitation in 2010, compared with 13 percent in 2005 and 19 percent in 2000 -- a steady decrease. The percentage of youth who reported an unwanted exposure to pornography was 23 percent in 2010, down from 34 percent in 2005. It was 25 percent in 2000. The study was based on three phone surveys conducted in 2000, 2005, and 2010.

Unwanted sexual solicitations should not be confused with threats from predators. The 9 percent includes all unwanted sexual solicitations, including from other youth and including solicitations that were not threatening to the young person. Fewer youths (3 percent) reported "aggressive solicitations," where offline contact was attempted or made. This is down slightly from the 4 percent in 2005 and is the same as it was in 2000.

The only increase was in online harassment, which is sometimes referred to as cyberbullying. Eleven percent of respondents in 2010 reported having experienced online harassment, up from 9 percent in 2005 and 6 percent in 2000. Harassment was defined as "threats or other offensive behavior" (not sexual). Youth were asked: "In the past year, did you ever feel worried or threatened because someone was bothering or harassing you online?"

"The constant news about Internet dangers may give the impression that all Internet problems have been getting worse for youth but actually that is not the case," said lead author Lisa Jones, research associate professor of psychology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center.

The findings were based on surveys of about 1,500 Internet users and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent. Results were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.