Technopanic In The UK! Think Of The Children! They're Talking About SEX Online!
from the fear!-run!-do-something! dept
Just a week after we were talking about a new research report on media-induced “technopanics” we’ve got another one. This time, it’s coming from the UK. The headline announces: One in ten children have sexually explicit conversations on the internet, study finds. Oh no! And then, each paragraph adds another scare factor: these kids also lie to their parents! Oh no! Sometimes they chat with strangers! Oh no! Some of them go to websites with adult content! Oh no! Some even pretend to do homework while actually (gasp!) chatting with others! It’s just awful!
Of course, if you actually look at the details, they don’t sound bad at all. In fact, I’m pretty surprised the numbers are as low as they are. The study itself involved a survey of kids from ages 11 to 18 in the UK. That’s a huge range. Kids in the 16, 17 and 18 year old range are quite different from your everyday 11 and 12 year old. And the idea that a 17 or 18 year-old might have had a sexually explicit conversation online doesn’t seem too surprising. Note that it never says anything about with whom the sexually explicit conversation occurred. Assuming that many of these 17 and 18 year olds have boyfriends or girlfriends, and they probably all use instant messaging, social networking or text messaging — you have to imagine that many of them will have had somewhat sexually explicit conversations with that boyfriend or girlfriend. That’s really not that out of the ordinary. The fact that it’s only 11% of kids surveyed sounds incredibly low.
As for lying to parents about what they’re doing online, is that a surprise? The fact that a kid would tell his mom he’s doing homework while he’s really chatting with his girlfriend or his friends? That’s to be expected. Note that the study doesn’t appear to have said just that people lied about having sexually explicit chats, either. Just that they lied about what they were doing online. As for chatting with strangers… while the article mentions that in passing, it doesn’t indicate that the survey actually asked any questions about that at all. And, finally, visiting websites with adult content, I will again point out that we’re talking about boys who are going through puberty. The fact that some of them eventually visit an adult website should hardly be news.
But when the press packages it all together in this nice format, it makes it seem like we’ve got a bunch of deviant kids running around the internet with no supervision from their luddite parents, who need to start standing over the shoulders of their kids as they surf. Either that, or perhaps we can calm down, realize that the stats don’t say anything all that surprising, and move on to something that might actually matter.