What is Your Teen Doing Online? New McAfee Study Reveals All

As a parent, one of your top priorities is to ensure the safety and well-being of your children. This includes teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street, eating plenty of vegetables and having a healthy dose of skepticism when approached by strangers on the street – but how well are you doing at monitoring the safety of your children’s online behavior?

According to McAfee’s 2013 study Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents and Kids, there is a significant disconnect between what preteens, teens and young adults are doing online and what their parents believe they do, with 46% of youth admitting that they would change their online behavior if they knew that their parents are paying attention. As Michelle Dennedy, Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer at McAfee, shares, “This study has made it exceedingly clear that parents need to get involved, to understand what their children are doing online, and to engage them in a myriad of ways that will keep them living safe online.”

Are you part of the 39% of parents who try to monitor your children’s online behavior with parental controls? If so, you may want to be on alert, because your tech savvy teen may be taking advantage of your limited tech acumen by bypassing your controls. Of the 41% of tweens that have passwords set for mobile apps by their parents, 92% know the passwords. This means that your tween could be partaking in questionable behavior on their mobile phones without you even knowing – this is further compounded by the fact that mobile activity can’t be as easily monitored as online behavior on a desktop computer.

Other key findings from the study include:

  • A majority of youth use mobile devices to access social media. Of those surveyed, 76% of young people reported using a mobile device to access social media, and 56% use a password on their mobile device. Bad news for parents – 22% of youth admit to using a mobile device specifically to hide their online behavior from their parents.
  • Teens spend more time online than their parents think. On average, 25% of youth spend 5-6 hours a day online, while a majority of parents believe they are only online 1-2 hours day.
  • Teens find social sites to be safe, so they post personal information unbeknownst to their parents. 86% of youth believe social networking sites are safe, so they feel comfortable in posting personal information about themselves such as their email address (50%) and personal activities (31%).
  • Teens use social media sites that their parents may not know exist. You may be familiar with Facebook and Twitter, but what about Instagram? Snapchat? Do your research! Snapchat is a a social network that has gained notoriety recently as some users have taken advantage of the app to screenshot and spread revealing photos of other users.
  • Social media sites are hubs for mean behavior. Even bullying has gone digital – 27% of 10-23 year olds in the study said that they have witnessed cruel behavior on social networks. How confident are you that your child has not been a victim of or participant in online bullying?
  • Teens are actively searching for inappropriate content. You may not think your children are using the Internet to search for sexual topics, but in fact, 57% of 13-23 year olds report using the Internet for this very purpose.

With all the risks that youth face today with the proliferation of social sites that facilitate the spread of highly personal information, what are parents to do? According to Dennedy, “There is no sense of permanence and global reach with online sharing and posting among these age groups, so the onus really is upon the parents to accelerate their digital savvy and be actively engaged on educating their kids about how to live safely online.”

Now’s the time for parents to have more straightforward conversations with teens about living safe online and how the consequences of their actions can extend much further than their original intentions. To learn more, click here.

For more on this topic and other security news and events, be sure to follow our team on Facebook and on Twitter at @McAfeeConsumer.

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