Monday, June 28, 2010

McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” Survey Report, Part 1 - What do parents really know?

Part 1 of 5-Part Series.

Photo Credit Flickr Creative Commons
Admit it; we all went through it to lesser or greater degrees on our way to becoming adults. A right of passage of being a teenager for many is having a secret life away from parents, teachers, and other authority figures associated with standing in the way of what for many children is their first signs of becoming independent – their privacy. This need for independence, which is really just the first attempts at establishing who we are and will be in the world on our own, often comes with the rebellion of not listening to advice especially warnings. Many teenagers do not properly think through the consequences of their actions – most of us did not either when we were their age.

We all made mistakes as teenagers – some with bigger consequences than others. The sophistication of 21st century communication technology comes with sophisticated consequences. Having a “secret life” away from their parents’ view is nothing new for teenagers, yet the tools and ramifications of these private actions can be far reaching in new ways. The threats to a teenager’s safety are more complicated than ever before. Parents can minimize these threats more effectively and faster if they take into account the real world of this “secret life”.

McAfee, Inc. (NYSE: MFE), the world’s largest dedicated security company, commissioned and on June 22 released “The Secret Life of Teens,” a survey conducted online by Harris Interactive from May 4-May 17, 2010. The study surveyed 955 U.S. 13-17 year olds (including 593 teens ages 13-15 and 362 teens aged 16-17) and reveals the online behavior of American teens and areas of concern for parents. Results were weighted as needed for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and other key variables. Overall data in this report is representative of U.S. tweens and teens, ages 10-17.

The McAfee survey is a comprehensive and important glimpse into the “Secret Life of Teens” in today’s world of laptops, cell phones, iPad, and the Internet. It focuses in on what teens are thinking and doing often under the watchful eye of parents as well as away from them.  Some parents may be shocked by the dangerous teen behavior elements revealed in the survey report. What do parents really know about their teen’s secret life? The survey reveals:

* Despite warnings and instruction, teens talk to strangers and continue to give up personal information online – 69% have given their physical location, and 24% shared their email address.

* Despite recent tragic events, teens have not curbed acts of cyberbullying – 22% of teens do not know what to do if they are cyberbullied, and 33% know someone that has had hurtful things posted about them online.

* Despite monitored home computer usage, teens access the Internet away from home more than ever before – 87% of teens go online somewhere other than at home, and 30% access the Internet with their phone.

* Despite watchful parents, teens hide what they are doing online – 42% of teens do not tell their parents what they are doing online, and 36% would change their online behavior if parents were watching.

* Despite high tech savvy, teen page views and downloads, including porn, increase the chances of the family computer being infected with a virus – 62% of teens view or download some kind of online media, and 27% of teens have accidentally allowed a virus, spyware, or other software to infect the family computer.

Over the next 5 days we will present a 5-part series of survey results from the McAfee study. We will include insights from a McAfee security expert, also a parent, whom will talk about continued online threats and what surprised him about the study. We will include notes from Tracy Mooney, a mother of three and McAfee’s cybermom, whom can share real life examples of raising a teen online. We will conclude the series with easy tips parents can use now especially with their kids out for summer break. We will provide information on a new McAfee product for the iPhone that lets parents monitor their teen’s Internet usage even away from home.

McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” Survey Report 5-Part Series Overview:

Part 1 – Introduction to McAfee Survey Report – What do parents really know?

Part 2 – The Difference Between Girls & Boys

Part 3 – Risky Online Behavior

Part 4 – What Teens Hide & How

Part 5 – What Parents Can Do – Notes from McAfee’s Cyber Mom Tracy Mooney.

McAfee’s cybermom Tracy Mooney notes, “Like me, most parents think they have a handle on what kind of online content their children are exploring. This report makes it clear that we need to be much more involved with helping our kids make the right decisions online. Education is key.”


  1. Hey Brenda I enjoyed your article. If I may offer my 2 cents?

    A) Education is the key. You are right on the prescription. Now I haven't read the McAfee study myself, so my validity is a little limited. However:

    -The notion of education itself has to be educated as well. Look at the picture you included. A picture is worth a thousand words. You have a teen thats holding no more than a laptop and other gadgets. You have a concerned looking mom with gray hair. So the dynamic at work is captured wonderfully. The teen sees the technology as an extension of his/herself while the mom seems utterly baffled by it all.

    The mentality of the two parties should be addressed without any reserve. When one side uses the medium to merely BE A TEEN; and the other side of presumable authority has no idea what the technology even is, let alone does, of course there will be conflict.

    As long as the teens use the technology with the mentality that they do they'll always be a step ahead of mom and dad that by and large don't go on there to still be anything other than parents- guarding and watching(or inmate keeping). Think about that: guarding and watching, observing.

    I speak as a little arm chair strategist here but let me elaborate. Von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu captured this best. The side thats continually on the offensive has the pleasure to think creatively about how to attack. This is why offense is your best defense. You can only make a castle so sturdy before cannons make it obsolete. So the same with the social media and other gadgets teens go on. They approach the medium with an offensive mindset "I'm on here to assert myself and make my will known" and they do this in all sorts of reputable and NON-reputable ways, such as cyberbulling people to death, literally. Its this aspect of thinking creatively that will always put parents one step behind, very frequently they can't even comprehend how their Junior even uses the internet as a means to assert himself other than Facebook updates. Of course it means more to Junior- its his realm outside parental control. Clamping down is only going to make the situation worse and encourage teens to burrow into their technology even more. Its a plain old arms race where its the teens that actually have the offensive advantage. So I believe acknowledging this would help.

  2. B.) Let's examine the laws teens are breaking. Parents are RIGHTFULLY concerned about the laws their little ones may be breaking online. So lets stop and think here, what are these laws. If kids will always be kids and being a kid online means unintentionally breaking the law, are we making it illegal to be a kid? How about we examine the laws kids are breaking and ask if these are laws that even need to be there, let alone amended.

  3. C.) Above all; a picture is worth a thousand words. I look at that picture and ask myself a thousand times- why can't mom just get over her insecurity and LEARN what those technological gadgets do?