Aims and scope:
The usage of mobile phones and the internet by young people has increased rapidly in the past decade, approaching saturation by middle childhood in developed countries. Besides many benefits, online content, contact or conduct can be associated with risk of harm; most research has examined whether aggressive or sexual harms result from this. We examine the nature and prevalence of such risks, and evaluate the evidence regarding the factors that increase or protect against harm resulting from such risks, so as to inform the academic and practitioner knowledge base. We also identify the conceptual and methodological challenges encountered in this relatively new body of research, and highlight the pressing research gaps.
Given the pace of change in the market for communication technologies, we review research published since 2008. Following a thorough bibliographic search of literature from the key disciplines (psychology, sociology, education, media studies and computing sciences), the review concentrates on recent, high quality empirical studies, contextualizing these within an overview of the field.
Risks of cyberbullying, contact with strangers, sexual messaging ('sexting') and pornography generally affect fewer than one in five adolescents. Prevalence estimates vary according to definition and measurement, but do not appear to be rising substantially with increasing access to mobile and online technologies, possibly because these technologies pose no additional risk to offline behaviour, or because any risks are offset by a commensurate growth in safety awareness and initiatives. While not all online risks result in self-reported harm, a range of adverse emotional and psychosocial consequences is revealed by longitudinal studies. Useful for identifying which children are more vulnerable than others, evidence reveals several risk factors: personality factors (sensation-seeking, low self-esteem, psychological difficulties), social factors (lack of parental support, peer norms) and digital factors (online practices, digital skills, specific online sites).
Mobile and online risks are increasingly intertwined with pre-existing (offline) risks in children's lives. Research gaps, as well as implications for practitioners, are identified. The challenge is now to examine the relations among different risks, and to build on the risk and protective factors identified to design effective interventions.