A new study, led by a Michigan State University criminologist, has indicated that peer influence and low self-control appear to be the major factors fuelling juvenile cybercrime such as computer hacking and online bullying.
Thomas Holt, assistant professor of criminal justice, said the findings reinforce the need for parents to be more aware of their children’s friends and Internet activities.
“It’s important to know what your kids are doing when they’re online and who they are associating with both online and offline,” said Holt.
The study is one of the first to examine the cybercrime motivations of students in middle and high school.
Holt and colleagues conducted a scientific survey of 435 students in a suburban Kentucky school district. According to the study, the biggest predictor to engaging in cybercrime was peer influence – basically, kids whose friends engaged in cybercrime were more likely to engage in those behaviours as well, Holt said.
Cybercrime includes digital piracy, viewing online pornography, online bullying and harassment and cyber-trespassing.
Lack of self-control was also a major predictor. Holt said this is more difficult for parents to tackle.
“These are the more risk-taking, impulsive kids; they’re more likely to act on opportunity,” said Holt.
“So understanding your children’s potential for behaviour is important as well,” added Holt.
The study has been published online in the American Journal of Criminal Justice.