What is it about?

This paper, undertaken with my colleague Dr Aiman EL Asam, explores how being vulnerable offline contributes to children and young people being at greater risk in the digital world than other children. The study explores the relationships between five types of vulnerability and four categories of online risks. It found that not only could vulnerability predict online risk but that there were particular patterns between each type of vulnerability and the kinds of risks. Encounters with one type of risk could predict that this young person was likely to experience certain other risks too. Vulnerability is characterised by being in care or being a young carer, having special needs, a mental health difficulty, communication difficulties or physical disabilities. Compared to other young people, the vulnerable groups are more likely to encounter online risks that either involve online relationships (contact), behaviour (conduct), accessing risky online material (content) or being victims of Cyber-scams. Experiencing one risk is also associated with experiencing other online risks.

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Why is it important?

This large scale study shows that while most young people are resilient and becoming digitally competent, the lives of the most vulnerable children and young people are moving in another direction that could disadvantage them even further or exacerbate their difficulties. High risk online experiences can be predicted not only by the offline problems a child faces (vulnerability) but also by other encounters with online risk they may have. Messages for practice show that a one size fits all generic way of teaching online safety cannot work for vulnerable young people. Intervention and support needs to be nuanced and considered.


As it becomes increasingly essential to be competent and safe in a digital world, questions about how we prepare young people for their digital future are urgent. This study offers a glimpse into how intervention and support might develop to consider the whole child, especially those who are vulnerable offline. Responses might look into more than the presenting issue alone and advice might be given with an awareness of the young person's motivation or emotional need to take those risks. Training for staff and professionals could become more specialised and responsive because it is possible to predict particular categories of risk.

Adrienne Katz
Youthworks Consulting

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Vulnerable Young People and Their Experience of Online Risks, Human-Computer Interaction, February 2018, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2018.1437544.
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