There’s a common refrain among people of a certain age: “Wow, I’m really glad I wasn’t a teenager in the age of smartphones and Snapchat.” They’re not wrong. After polling over 10,000 18-year-olds from 25 different countries, a new UNICEF study confirms that being a teen online these days is fraught with risk, danger, and the potential for abuse.
The numbers are pretty daunting. For instance, 53 percent of teens polled strongly agreed with the idea that kids and adolescents are at risk of being sexually abused or taken advantage of online. Meanwhile, 27 percent strongly agreed that their friends engaged in “risky behaviors” on the internet.
The numbers varied depending on the region. Only 36 percent of US and UK teens agreed with the point about friends engaging in risky behavior, a little less than half of the 67 percent of teens in Latin America. But taken as a whole, the survey paints a rather sobering picture of adolescent life online. (The study also highlights some of the more horrifying examples, including a 17-year-old girl who was repeatedly drugged and raped after meeting up with a man she initially met online.)
Interestingly, the study also highlights a sharp contrast between what teens think of themselves and what they think of others. Nearly 90 percent of them thought they could stay out of harm’s way online—a proportion that increased to 94 percent in the US and UK—and 36 percent strongly believed that bullying or abuse wouldn’t happen to them.
“Globally, one in three internet users is a child,” a press release accompanying the report notes. Indeed, there has been much made of what it means to be young on the internet these days, and not much of it is particularly heartening. While the web has certainly changed some things for the better—making it easier connect with like-minded people, for instance—it’s also clearly not an easy place to be. And sure, that might be true for all of us, but teens have one clear disadvantage: they’re only teenagers!