Teens With Low-Self Control, Excessive Screen Time and Questionable Friends More Likely to Hack

Teens with low-self control who excessively use digital devices and have friends who engage in questionable behavior could be more prone to hack.
Donna Fuscaldo

Here's something else parents can worry about if they have a child or children obsessed with video games. They may be the next hacker to bring down a corporation or steal the identities of unsuspecting victims. 

That's according to new research from Michigan State University's School of Criminal Justice, which finds connections between excessive use of video games, low self-control and the peers they associate with and who goes on to be a hacker. 


Low-self control is a factor 

“We know much about the scope of hacking and its threat, but the problem is that we don’t know exactly when and how hacking behavior starts,” said Thomas Holt, lead author and MSU cybercrime expert in the School of Criminal Justice said in a press release announcing the research results. “There is a general understanding that hacking starts in the early teens but until now, we weren’t clear on background factors, such as behavioral issues, the impact of social connections or personality traits. Our findings pointed us in the direction of thinking that there are gendered pathways to hacking.”

Holt and his team of researchers looked at responses from 50,000 teenagers located around the world to determine if there are predictors of hacking. The findings, which were published in journal Crime & Delinquency found low self-control is one of the biggest factors present in both male and female hackers. These children have trouble abstaining when an opportunity comes knocking.

Girls can be peer pressured into hacking 

Holt and his team found for girls, a more powerful predictor is peer association. If a girl has friends who engage in questionable behavior such a shoplifting or other petty crimes she is more likely to be influenced to engage in hacking. 

For boys, the more time spent playing computer games or watching TV the more likely it could morph into hacking. Some of that disparity between the sexes could be due to how girls and boys are raised. Boys are encouraged to play video games while girls are encouraged to engage in other activities, Holt said. 

Teach kids to use their skills for good

Holt noted the ease in which they could hack plays a big role in whether or not they will do it. For teens who have a computer in their bedroom out of the purview of the parents, its easier to engage in hacking behaviors then if the computer is located in the family room.  What's more, the researchers found kids who have access to a smartphone or mobile device early on in life of more inclined to hack. That is particularly true if they live in bigger cities. 

“Parents shouldn’t assume that having a kid with sophisticated technological competency is always totally fine,” Holt said. “Finding others in the field – like those you’d meet in a robotics club or attending something like the DefCon conference – is vital for kids to learn about using their skills in a positive way and for staving off bad behaviors. Cybercrime can be a hidden problem, so talking is vital. The more you can understand what they’re doing, the easier you can flag something that might be off and curtail activity.”

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