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How to help teenagers avoid being caught in crime web

This Digital Life

New research shows pre-teens are ignoring the age limits imposed by social media sites, while older teens are 'impressed' by cybercrime. So what can be done to protect our children online, asks Katie Wright.

How would you react if you discovered a friend had hacked into a bank's website and pasted a cartoon over the homepage? Would you feel shocked? Appalled? Disapproving?

A new study reveals that among 16 to 19-year-olds, more than a third (35%) said they would actually be impressed if they found out a pal had committed this kind of cybercrime.

Commissioned by security firm Kaspersky Lab, following the National Crime Agency (NCA) revelation that the average cybercrime suspect is just 17 years old, the survey also found that 12% of the 1,500 teens questioned know someone who has been involved in an online activity that could be deemed illegal.

Commenting on the research, psychologist Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos of University College London says this is an example of classic teenage rebellion moving into the digital sphere. "Cybercrimes represent an attack on the 'system' and allow individuals to express their teenage angst ... and to achieve the kind of social validation and attention that many teenagers seek," he says.

Meanwhile, a pair of surveys to mark the annual Safer Internet Day (SID) have found that three-quarters of 10 to 12-year-olds have at least one social media account, despite being below the age limit of 13, and a third have witnessed their friends writing offensive, mean or threatening posts online.

Experts agree that communication is key. The NCA's #CyberChoices campaign, launched at the end of last year, recommends that parents talk to their kids regularly about their online activities and watch out for signs - such as children spending all of their time online, becoming socially isolated or evasive when asked what they're doing - that might indicate an involvement in criminal activities. The UK Safer Internet Centre encourages children of all ages to report abuse online - whether it's directed at them or not - to an adult.

The SID study found that, encouragingly, 68% of those who had witnessed hate speech online knew how to report it to a social network, but in reality, only 20% actually reported an incident.

"It is a wake-up call for all of us to play our part in helping create a better internet for all," said Will Gardner, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre and CEO of Childnet.

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