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By Anne Collier

When MediaSmarts conducted its focus groups with young Canadians, it heard quite a bit about the important role the Internet plays in their “exploring and learning about sexuality and relationships,” the Canadian digital literacy organization says. But the authors write that the survey itself – of 5,000+ students in grades 4-11 – suggests that that role may be smaller than you’d think, with only 8% of students saying that they go online to learn about sexuality. That goes up as they age up, though, so the figure is 1% for 6th graders and 20% for 11th graders. Still, they use the Net more for information on physical health (18%) and mental health (11%), compared to that 8% for info on sexuality. [Not all questions about sexuality were asked of kids in younger grades, the authors write. Some, “including questions about pornography and sexting, were asked only of students in grades 7-11.]
Some other interesting findings in three categories:

Romantic partners vs. everybody else: Young Canadian interact more with friends and family in social media than with boyfriends and girlfriends. “Over 90% of students in grades 7-11 think their friends should be able to read their social media posts compared to 59% who think their boyfriend or girlfriend should be able to.” This too changes as they age up, but with 11th graders, 95% are open to friends reading their social media posts vs. 70% romantic partners doing so. They also feel friends should be able to track their whereabouts using geolocation tech) more than romantic partners (and almost as much as their parents), for 11th graders, the percentages were 49% for parents, 45% friends and 30% romantic partners. Canadian teens “more actively engage in deleting posts … to avoid misunderstandings on the part of their family and friends than they are in keeping something from a romantic partner.”

Pornography: Seventy-seven percent of students in grades 7-11 reported they’ve never looked for pornography online, but of those who have, there’s a significant gender difference: 40% of boys vs. 75 of girls. Eighty-eight percent of boys who have sought out online porn have done so more than once a month. Parents may be interested to know that “students who report having a rule at home about sites they are not supposed to visit are more likely to say that they have never looked for pornography online.” The percentage of Canadian students (grades 7-11) who seek out adult content online has increased from 16% in 2005 to 23% in 2013, when this survey was conducted.

Sexting: Questions on this topic only went to students who had their own cellphones or had access to a shared one, but – since 87% of older students have access to a cellphone – “it seems safe to say that our findings capture most of the sexting activity happening among the youth in our survey.” Eight percent of students in grades 7-11 have sent and 24% have received a “sext” (defined as “sexy, nude or partially nude photo”) of themselves to someone – about the same percentage for boys and girls. The low for sending is 2% in grade 7 and the high 15% of 11th graders and the low for receiving a sext is 11% for 7th graders and 36% for 11th graders. An important finding in terms of a sense of ethics that is developing around the practice is that about three-quarters of students who send sexts of themselves have never had one forwarded by the recipient, and 85% of students who have received a sext have not forwarded it. Also interestingly, “having a household rule about treating people online with respect does not correlate with lower likelihood of forwarding sexts.”

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