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First Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS-1)

Summary: The Youth Internet Safety Survey is a telephone survey of a national sample of 1,501 youth, ages 10 to 17, and their parents, to assess the incidence, consequences and risk factors related to unwanted or illegal exposure of children and adolescents to sexual solicitation, harassment and pornography on the Internet and to determine children’s and parent’s knowledge of how to respond to such episodes. Interviews were conducted between August 1999 and January 2000. The survey was funded by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Background

The media have focused attention on cases of children being solicited by adults for illegal sexual activities over the Internet. Law enforcement agencies and parent organizations have also expressed considerable concern about this issue. However, there has been little scientific research to establish parameters about the frequency, type, and consequences of such unwanted or illegal sexual solicitations or the related problem of unwanted exposure of youth to pornography on the Internet. The Youth Internet Safety Survey gathered data on these issues by interviewing a national sample of 1,501 youth, ages 10 through 17, who used the Internet in the year prior to the interview, and their parents.

Goals and Objectives

Methodology

The Youth Internet Safety Survey used telephone interviews to gather information from a national sample of 1,501 young people, ages 10 through 17, who had used the Internet at least once a month for the past six months. The sample included a range of both "heavy" and "light" Internet users. Households with youth in the target age group were identified through another large household survey, the Second National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART 2).

Upon reaching a household, interviewers screened for regular Internet use by a child in the household age 10 through 17. Interviewers, speaking with an adult, identified the child in the household who used the Internet most often. They then conducted a short interview with the parent who knew the most about the child’s Internet use. The interview included questions about household rules and parental concerns about Internet use, as well as demographic characteristics. At the close of the parent interview, the interviewer requested permission to speak with the previously identified youth. With parental consent, interviewers described the survey to the child and obtained his or her oral consent. Youth interviews lasted from fifteen to thirty minutes. They were scheduled at the convenience of youth participants and arranged for times when they could talk freely and confidentially. The survey was conducted under supervision of the University of New Hampshire Institutional Review Board, and conformed to the rules mandated by research projects funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Detailed information about the methodology of the survey can be found in the final report and other publications.

Summary of Findings

The survey suggests that youth encounter a substantial quantity of offensive episodes, some of which are distressing and most of which are unreported. A comprehensive strategy to respond to the problem would aim to reduce the quantity of offensive behavior, better shield young people from its likely occurrence, increase the level of reporting, and provide more help to youth and families to protect them from any consequences.

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