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Dealing with Cybercrime in Young People

We are all aware that technology use amongst the younger generation is at an all time high. From toddlers’ ability to use tablets to primary school children learning to code, it comes as no surprise that the amount of young people becoming involved in cybercrime is also increasing. 

It may be inconceivable to think that teenagers have the ability or motivation to participate in such activities, but given the new and unique nature of cybercrime, falling into criminality subconsciously is becoming much easier. You may be familiar with the term hacking, the infiltration and/or manipulation of computer security systems for both positive or negative purposes. A young person with a particular interest in computers or technology may find themselves involved in hacking as a way of testing their skills. There are websites and applications such as Hack The Box, that allow young people to improve their skills legally, but often young people outgrow these games and seek out tougher challenges which may or may not be legal. This does not necessarily mean the child is a criminal or morally wrong, as more often than not they are unaware of the illegality of their actions due to its general appearance as a game, their lack of understanding of the law, as well as a lack of policing and punishment in the cybersphere. 

Many young people who engage in cybercrime are highly computer literate and interested in technology. As it is with any other hobby or talent, achieving goals and improving skills is important and provides a sense of accomplishment. In addition, there are online communities of like minded youngsters who discuss hacking techniques and praise each other for completing complex tasks. Therefore, maintaining a reputation amongst online peers may cloud the judgement of young people who wouldn’t normally engage in crime. 

It is important to remember that an interest in hacking is not necessarily a bad one. Nurturing this interest and encouraging its use for pro-social purposes could result in fantastic opportunities as a cyber security professional in the future. 

There are a number of ways by which you can discourage your child from committing cybercrime; 

  •  Focus on their decision-making skills. Ask them to take a step back from the decision they are about to make and consider whether or not it is a good choice to follow through with it. 
  •  Educate them on the dangers of technology. In the same way you may discuss the use of drugs or alcohol with your child, explain that their actions may have consequences outside of their control.
  •  Encourage their involvement in legitimate cyber security challenges such as those held by Cyber Security Challenge UK, and their achievement of qualifications. This will emphasise a pro-social use of their skills. 
  •  Have your child speak to a cyber security professional. Many young people do not understand that there are plenty of legitimate opportunities and having access to a mentor may be beneficial in communicating this to them. 

Keep in mind ‘hacking’ may be an important part of a young person’s life. It may be their main hobby or their reason for connection with online peers. Thus, it is key to understand that removing technology from the child and stigmatising their actions may not be the right approach. Focus on shifting their use of technology to pro-social purposes and encourage their involvement in legitimate opportunities. This will serve to benefit them in the long-term by praising and motivating them to achieve positive goals.

Posted on:

Nov 25, 2020

Robyn Cremin (Guest Blogger)

Robyn is a UCC graduate with an MA in Criminology. She has a special interest in cybercrime and social risk, and is an advocate for cyber awareness.