Back in 2016 the Kids Help Phone conducted a survey with 1,319 teens aged 13-19 which revealed that one-in-five children has seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months. The research we have conducted at Imagine Everything reveals a nearly identical statistic six years later in 2022 with one additional insight: students are using school devices and services to learn things like the lethal dosage rates of various drugs like Tylenol or Aspirin. Self harm makes up 0.71% of all high risk online student activity according to research we conducted in August 2021. This research project involved 27 volunteer school boards of varying geographies and sizes across Canada To put this in perspective, out of 1.8M high risk requests made by students 12,828 requests would be similar to the ones in the images shows here.
Like suicide, kids are able to find information online about how to carry out acts of violence against another student or school. Although more isolated than the number of students researching suicide, incidents related to violence still makes up 0.59% of all high risk online activity by students. Statistically, this meant over 10,770 web requests over the course of the 2021 school year by our 27 school board research participants.
There are two sides of the child exploitation topic: when students actively seek out child sexual abuse material online and when online child predators attempt to sexualize or sextort children. For both legal and modesty reasons we are unable to share examples of school board activity from our research. However, it is clear that students are actively seeking out child sexual abuse material using school devices and children accessing adult social networks where they are subjected to luring and grooming is a significant problem in Canada. It’s important to note that child predators are increasingly more manipulative, subversive, and technologically savvy. Predators often work together sharing advice and tips over the dark web on how to maximize the chances of exploiting a child while minimizing the risk of getting caught. In a recent attack against one Canadian student we witnessed a child predator who broadcast video footage of another child through their webcam leading the children they talked with to believe they were actually chatting with another child. Children accessing adult social networks, places of frequent child luring and grooming, made up 8.78% of all high risk traffic, or 159,183 distinct requests for these networks. Comparatively, students who sought out child sexual abuse images online made up 1.33% of all high risk traffic, or 24,095 distinct requests.
There are a variety of reasons why a student turning to Google for help with cyberbullying is easier than trusting a parent, teacher, or school administrator: fear of retaliation, self-blame, humiliation, shame, or fear of rejection among other things. In 2017 the U.S. Center for Disease Control reported that 15.5% of all children would be cyberbullied. By 2020, this number rose to a staggering 20%, the increase thought to be related to the major rise in use of online social engagement tools. Cyberbullying activity made up 0.52% of all high risk requests, or 9,450 distinct web requests. In this case, it’s important to note that our research distinguishes between students conducting research about cyberbullying from students who are actually experiencing bullying using a contextually aware algorithm that removes research inquiries.
High risk incidents transcend geography, ethnicity, culture, and gender. The examples noted above are found in both large, urban school boards as well as in smaller, rural school boards. It is essential that school boards institute policies, procedures, and technologies to identify and provide guidance for at-risk students.
Trust is necessary to develop any form of meaningful connection between people. It’s why student privacy is such an important topic when discussing online risks. The trust we extend to kids, which includes respecting their privacy, should be generous but measured at an appropriate level. It’s not a binary “have it” or “don’t” but a quantity that’s offered as kids grow, mature, and learn to discern for themselves the risks online. Trusting a four year old to start a gas stove or an eleven year old to use a table saw without supervision would seem unwise. That’s reasonable. The restricted trust is measured against very high risk outcomes. The same measured approach should be used when considering online supervision in our school systems. The problem with online student surveillance technologies (particularly those developed in the U.S.) is that there is no measure: they are entirely invasive of a students privacy. They read every email, every private chat message, every document, they scan and evaluate every image, every social media post. They offer zero privacy. They offer zero trust. Imagine Everything developed Student Aware in collaboration with over a dozen school boards and privacy was always kept center stage. We’ve proven through years of successful life saving events that the invasive nature of these other systems is entirely unnecessary. It’s possible to offer students a high level of privacy while still identifying life altering or threat of life incidents.