Tuesday, June 29, 2010

McAfee "Secret Life of Teens" Survey Report, Part 2 - The Difference Between Girls & Boys

Part 2 of a 5-Part Series

Photo Credit Flickr Common
It does not take a parent long to realize their teens are experts at digital technology. They are often more skillful and comfortable than their parents at incorporating the latest, greatest technology into their lives. Just like your parents probably could not get you off the telephone when you were in high school, you can not get your teens off their computer or cell phone – but now they are using the “telephone” to text their friends instead of verbally talking to them on it. Crazy, huh, using an instrument meant to “talk” more to “write” as the communication method? Teens today have not lived a day of their life without the Internet.

As McAfee’s 2010 “Secret Life of Teens” survey conclusions confirm, “Their high level of online participation also opens them up to potential dangers, such as cyberbullying, personal information sharing, and online threats. It’s important for you to understand the potential benefits and risks of your kids’ online lives, so we can nurture the positive aspects, such as increased communication skills and online learning, while minimizing risks.”

The McAfee survey report notes the changes since 2008 this way: “The main changes we’ve seen in teens’ online behavior over the last two years are a growth in social networking and sharing of information, as well as increased use of the Internet overall. When it comes to social networking, 73% of 13- to 17-year-olds today say they have an account on a social networking site, compared to 59% in 2008. This increase in social networking could be the cause behind the increase in personal information sharing (56% of 16- to 17-year-olds) since teens now have more platforms and opportunities to share details about their lives.”

As parents are well aware, there are differences in raising girls and in raising boys – whether politically correct to acknowledge these natural differences based on gender or not. The McAfee survey found girls are more likely than boys to chat with people they do not know online, and boys are more likely to have viewed or downloaded pornography online. Girls are more likely to have been cyberbullied. Most disturbing for parents may be “And, while almost all kids say that they knew how to be safe online, around half admit to giving out personal information to someone they do not know over the Internet.”

The differences between girls and boys are highlighted in these survey result statistics:

* Girls are more likely than boys to chat with people online that they don’t know in the offline world, (32% vs. 24%), and 13-15 year old girls (16%) are more likely than boys the same age (7 percent) to have given a description of what they look like.

* Girls seem to be more vulnerable online than boys, perhaps because communicating and sharing information are more typical behaviors for them. For instance, girls are more likely than boys to have a social networking account (72% versus 66%) and to say they always or often update their status (42% versus 29%).

* While girls’ openness may help them communicate better, it can also put them at higher risk. One quarter (25%) of girls—including 43% of girls ages 16 to 17—admit to chatting online with people they do not know. Girls are also more likely than boys to get harassed online, share their passwords with friends, give a description of what they look like to strangers, and share photos of themselves.

* Meanwhile, boys are more likely to download programs without their parents’ knowledge or those of “adult” content (35%), especially boys ages 16 to 17 (45%).

I asked McAfee’s Chief Cyber Security Mom Tracy Mooney a few questions regarding gender differences:

BKH: What is the one main difference between girls and boy’s online behavior?
TM: Girls are more likely than boys to chat with strangers online, and boys are more likely to search for adult content than girls.

BKH: Do parents tend to treat girls differently than boys online? If so, how?
TM: In some cases parents treat girls differently, but that varies from family to family.

BKH: Do parents worry less, and therefore watch less, when it comes to boys online?
TM: In some cases, perhaps. Boys and girls may be different in what they do online, but safety is still the goal.

BKH: With sexuality and discussions about it being much more open in our society today in advertising, on television, in movies, in school, and in most families, are teens less apt to freak-out when approached online with a sexual discussion?
TM: Wow, tough question! I asked my oldest son about this one. He thought that yes, sex is way more prevalent in society, but he felt that he and most of his friends avoided discussions about sex online. He felt some of his friends who had parents that didn't allow their kids to go online and have never had discussions about what to do when someone approaches you online and starts discussing personal topics, etc - they tend to freak out and not know what to do. This is one of those things that may be uncomfortable for parents to discuss with teens, but important. Give them the tools they need before something happens online, and they will know what to do to get out of potentially difficult situations.

BKH: Thanks Tracy.

When parents talk to their teens about safety online they will of course take into account their children’s specific personalities, for they know them best. Yet, as is the eye-opening conclusion throughout the McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” study, 42% of teens do not tell their parents what they do online, and 36% would change their online behavior if parents were watching. Parents should keep in mind the statistics reflect it is necessary to talk to their teens with an understanding of the different kinds of risks they may encounter online that may be gender based. It’s better safe than sorry – it’s better safe than politically correct in the moment.

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