How teens hide their online activity

A European survey commissioned by McAfee has revealed an alarming disconnect between what teens are getting up to online, and what parents are aware of. Many UK teens are accessing inappropriate content online, despite two thirds of teenagers saying they felt trusted by their parents to do what’s right when surfing the web.

Almost a third of UK parents (32%) live under the assumption that their teen tells them everything they do on the internet, and 59% of parents trust their teen to not access inappropriate content online.

However, this disconnect is leading to many teens undertaking questionable, dangerous and even illegal activity:

  • 30.5% of teens admitted visiting websites their parents would disapprove of
  • 31% of teens intentionally viewed a video of something they knew their parents wouldn’t approve of
  • 25% of teens are intentionally searching for nude images or pornography online – with over half (54%) viewing these images up to a few times a month – the highest in Europe
  • 19% of teens admitted to purchasing pirated music online and 6% shockingly said they had purchased alcohol or drugs over the internet
  • 13% of teens said they had actually met up with someone they had met online.

50% of parents expressed confidence they know how to find out what their child was doing online, however only one fifth of teens said they didn’t know how to hide their behaviour from their parents (the lowest figure in Europe).

The European research discovered a majority of teens are taking a number of steps to hide their online behaviour:

  • 47.5% of teens minimise the browser when a parent enters the room
  • 38.8% clear their browser history
  • 28% hide / delete inappropriate video content
  • 17.7% of teens have created a private email address unknown to their parents.

Parental monitoring and involvement

Only 12% of British parents claimed to have had a conversation with their teen about being safe online, but, more worryingly, 28.5% have done nothing to monitor their teen’s online behaviour at all (compared to a European average of 17.6%). Of the parents that have put controls in place:

  • Less than a third of parents have set controls on their teen’s mobile device
  • 12% know their teen’s mobile device password
  • 11.5% made their teen give them the password to their email or social media account
  • Only 3% set parental controls on their home computer.

Just over one in five parents (21.5%) admit that their teen is more tech-savvy than them and they’ll never be able to keep up with their online behaviours. Highlighting this point is the fact that 11% of teens admitted to disabling parental controls on their devices.

Disconnect around online dangers
Despite the much-publicised dangers associated with data and identity theft, many teens aren’t concerned about posting personal details online. More worryingly still, most parents also don’t realise the dangerous implications of this information being placed online for all to see:

  • 29% of teens are unconcerned about posting their email address online, with nearly a quarter of parents seeing no harm in the action
  • 36% of teens and 29% of parents said they were unconcerned about posting IM usernames online
  • Nearly four in ten teens (37.5%) said they were unconcerned about posting a photo of themselves online and 36% said they saw no harm in posting up a description of what they looked like
  • Nearly one in five teens thought posting intimate personal details of themselves wasn’t a risk, with even more parents unconcerned about the action (21.5%)
  • Most disturbingly, 16% of teens wouldn’t think twice about posting details of a place and time they were meeting someone. 17% of adults were unconcerned with this action.

The fix

“We believe the data will come as quite a shock to some parents, and we hope it will encourage them to take immediate action to protect their children,” said Raj Samani, EMEA CTO at McAfee. “It is clear that a huge gap exists between what teens are doing online, and what parents are aware of. Parents must take an active role to ensure their teens are practicing safe online behaviour.”

  • Parents should have frequent one-to-one conversations with teens to get through to them about the choices they’re making online and the risks and consequences of their actions
  • Parents must also be diligent about setting up parental controls, which includes keeping a watchful eye to know if / when teens discover ways around them
  • Parents should be upfront with teens about monitors and controls implemented on their internet devices, as many teens would think twice about their online activities if they knew parents were watching.

“Having grown up in the online world, teens are often more online savvy than their parents, making it difficult for parents to provide the necessary guidance, and therefore, reinforcing teens’ online vulnerability,” continued Samani. “But parents cannot give up – they must challenge themselves to become familiar with the complexities of the online universe and educate themselves about the various threats that await their teens online.”

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