Youth Cybercrime Influenced by Peers

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Having friends who engage in cybercrimes is one of the greatest determinants in whether juveniles commit cybercrimes, according to a new study by researchers at Michigan State University, Georgia Southern University and Eastern Kentucky University.

The study, Low Self-Control, Deviant Peer Associations, and Juvenile Cybercrime, published online in the American Journal of Criminal Justice, is one of the first to analyze the motives behind cybercrimes committed by juveniles in middle and high schools.

Authors of the study administered a scientific survey to 435 students in a Kentucky school district. Study results showed that the biggest predictor that juveniles might engage in cybercrime is peer influence – meaning kids with friends who had committed cybercrimes were more likely also to engage in such activities. Results also showed that low self-control was a major factor in juveniles committing cybercrimes.

Examples of cybercrimes include digital piracy (including stealing music), online bullying and harassment (including threatening or sexually explicit messages delivered through text messages or e-mails), viewing online pornography (if under age 18), and cyber-trespassing (which most times involves computer hacking).

Other reasons that juveniles commit cybercrimes, according to the research, include spending more time online for non-academic reasons, being highly skilled with computers and having a computer in a personal setting.

Age also positively correlated with cybercrime, while having higher grades was one of the least correlated factors relating to committing cybercrimes.

Females were also very unlikely to commit cybercrimes.

Research also showed that low self-control seems to have both a direct and indirect effect, through other peers offending, on youth cybercrime.

The study notes that both low self-control and deviant peer associations have been linked, not only to cybercrime violations, but also to committing other crimes. Research also found that peer offending had a stronger effect on others offending than low self-control and also consistently predicted each type of cyber deviance.

Researchers note that further studies are needed to assess the influence and interaction of peers and low self-control in both online and offline contexts. In addition, findings from the study raise questions about the relationship between juvenile participation in cybercrime and juvenile delinquency while not on the computer.

Although there is a clear relationship between low self-control, deviant peers and cybercrime, it is not as clear whether this association exists when it comes to real world offending and participating in cybercrimes. Authors of the study said that cybercrimes may be more attractive to youths than real world offenses because of the relative anonymity that the Internet and computers provide their users.

Further research is needed to consider the ways in which other factors, such as household income, affect cybercrime offenses committed by juveniles.