The complex digital life of the modern family: Online safety and privacy concerns

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) conducted a study to better understand teens and parents’ attitudes, concerns and knowledge base about online safety and privacy and how they view their own responsibility to keep themselves safe while on the Internet.

complex digital life

The issue of fake news

Almost 50 percent of teens said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned about mistakenly spreading fake news or misinformation over the Internet. Over 60 percent of Parents indicated they were concerned that their teen would spread misinformation ‒ a key indicator of how prevalent the issue of fake news has become over the last year. Twenty percent of parents also said they’d like to learn how to identify fake news, and 30 percent of teens said they’d like to know more about this kind of information.

Teens and parents both think they spend too much time online

Smartphones are now ubiquitous in teens’ lives (82% of teens own a smartphone, 67% have a laptop and 48% have a tablet) but constant mobile connectivity comes with a cost. Close to a third (28%) say they spend “too much time” online. Parents were also concerned about their own screen time, with 22 percent saying they spend too much time online.

Who is the family Chief Security Officer?

Parents and teens both think they are most knowledgeable about cybersecurity and privacy in their household. Thirty-four percent of teens indicate that they are the most knowledgeable – followed by 24 percent who think dad is, and 18 percent who think mom is.

Boys were much more likely to identify themselves as the household authority on cybersecurity and privacy than girls (42% vs. 27%); and girls were more likely to point to mom as the household cybersecurity authority than boys (25% vs. 11%). When parents were asked who is the most knowledgeable, 66 percent said they are, 21 percent say their partner is, and six percent say their children are.

Teens believe parents should follow some tech rules

Most teens are expected to follow at least some rules about their technology use. The most common rules teens report are restrictions on being connected during dinner (42%), limits on sharing passwords with friends (33%) and requirements that they report any online incidents that make them feel scared or uncomfortable (30%).

When teens were asked what kinds of rules they would also want their parents to follow, they felt there should be limits on the kind of social media content parents can post (38%). Teens also indicate that think their parents should not be allowed to use their devices at dinner (53%) and should not share passwords with friends (49%).

Parents are a critical resource for online safety and security

Almost half (47%) of online teens say their parents are among their top three sources for learning how to stay safe online, compared with 40 percent who say their friends are top sources. Another one in three (32%) of online teens say the news media is a primary source for education about online safety and security.

Technology and online safety concerns

The survey also highlights a range of concerns teens and parents have about technology and being safe online, which range from fake news to online bullying and unauthorized access to their accounts:

Security, safety and privacy concerns: Similar to last year’s survey, teens and parents are aligned on their top three concerns affecting online teens (ranked as something they are “very concerned” about), which are:

  • Someone accessing a teen’s account without permission (teens, 41% vs. parents, 41%)
  • Someone sharing a teen’s personal information about them online (teens, 39% vs. parents, 42%)
  • Having a teen’s photo or video shared that they wanted private (teens, 36% vs. parents, 34%).

Bullying and online harassment: Twenty-three percent of teens report that they have been harassed or bullied for a sustained period of time on the internet, and 24 percent say they were pressured to participate in harassing or bullying someone else online. Additionally, 20 percent say they had been harassed because of their political views, a category new to this year’s survey.

Girls are more likely than boys to say that the mean or cruel messages were related to their appearance (41% vs. 29%) or their sexual orientation (24% vs. 14%), while boys were more likely than girls to report meanness and cruelty associated with their political beliefs (24% vs. 15%).

Parents not fully aware of teens’ online lives: The majority of online teens continue to engage in online activities that their parents don’t know about; 57 percent say they have created an account that their parents are unaware of, such as for a social media site or an app they wanted to use.

While teens and parents clearly diverge in a number of areas, they appear to have similar interests in learning about online safety issues. For both parents and teens, learning how to prevent identity theft is their top online concern and keeping devices secure and concerns about ransomware and malware also ranked high.

Teens also ranked consistently as high or higher than parents in showing interest in topics focused on preventing security breaches, such as phishing (teens, 31% vs. parents, 27%), website security (29% vs. 24%) and creating better passwords (22% vs. 14%) ‒ indicating a strong desire to be more aware of how to implement the basics of cyber hygiene critical to staying safe online.

This year’s results also confirmed that teens are taking responsibility for their online safety. The survey found that while 62 percent of teens feel it is mostly their responsibility to keep themselves safe online, 10 percent feel it is mostly their parents’ job and 23 percent say they and their parents share the responsibility equally. On the other hand, 44 percent of parents say they feel mostly responsible for keeping their children safe online.