Thursday, July 1, 2010

McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” Survey Report, Part 4 – What Teens Hide & How

Part 4 of a 5-Part Series

Photo Credit Flickr Creative Common
One of the elements of a teen’s secret life is that it is, well, a secret. Keeping a secret from parents generally means doing it without their knowledge and away from their view. This can equate to hiding what they are doing on a home computer or going online somewhere other than home.

The McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” survey results released on June 22 reveals “85% of teens go online somewhere other than at home and under the supervision of their parents, 32% of teens say they don’t tell their parents what they do while they are online, and 28% engage with strangers online.”

“Kids today are using mobile devices more than ever to get connected, which means increased opportunities for unsupervised usage,” said Todd Gebhart, McAfee Executive VP of Consumer, Mobile and Small Business. He further noted, “It takes both education and technology to keep children protected. McAfee helps parents gain control of what their children may access online, informs them where their kids go online and gives them peace of mind that their kids are safe.”

What are teens hiding exactly? The McAfee survey affirms, “Parents should note that about one third of young people say that they “often” or “always” hide their online activities.” McAfee Chief Security Cyber Mom Tracy Mooney offers more detail, “There are many things kids hide from parents about their online behavior, usually it is whatever their parents say is off limits. That could be a secret email account, a social networking page that they are not old enough to have and in some cases it is looking at adult content.”

In my own research, I found it’s scary out there. Adding to Tracy’s specifics, parents would be wise to realize a teens’ secret life may also include:

* Cell phone text messages, some including “sexting”.

* Chat room activity.

* Instant online message chats.

* Webcam activities.

* Online group memberships.

* Secret online relationships.

Key findings in the survey by McAfee sheds more light on teens’ general use and attitudes.

* Today’s youth are online pros who know how to navigate through content, play games, and use communication services.

* Half of kids surveyed say that they have been using the Internet for five years or more, and 58% consider themselves heavy users who access the Internet six or seven days a week.

* Communicating and downloading content are two primary uses of the Internet by young people, but education also plays an important role. Nearly 80% say they use the Web to do research for school assignments.

* Gaming is also a popular activity, with 61% of kids saying they play games online, including multiplayer online games.

* Social networking is a fast-growing online activity. 81% of 16- to 17-year-olds report having at least one social networking account; this number has grown significantly since 2008.

* More than half (53%) of kids say that they typically view and download media online.

The report concluded parental influence can make a difference and asks parents, “Given the amount of time kids spend online, how much are you involved in their online habits? We found that, for the most part, parents try to stay informed about their kids’ online lives, but they more closely monitor younger children.” The survey results concluded:

* Nearly all kids (91%) say that their parents trust them to do what’s right online. However, 56% say that their parents know some of what they do online, but not everything, and a quarter (26%) report that their parents don’t have time to check up on what they do online.

* About one-third of kids (32%) say that they don’t tell their parents what they are doing online, and would change their behavior if they knew their parents were watching (31%).

* Even though parents are less likely to monitor their children’s behavior as they get older, young people are more inclined to hide what they do online from their parents as they get older. By the time they reach the ages of 16 or 17, 56% of teens hide their online activities.

Obviously it is easy for teens to hide their online activity if parents are not home, not in the same room, or if teens are away from home at the library or at a friend’s house. How do teens hide their online activity in the presence of their parents? McAfee’s Tracy Mooney offers, “From my own experience, if you walk up to the computer and they close the window they were just looking at - that is a pretty good tip off that they are hiding something. They also delete the history of the websites they have visited.”

The survey also explains, “The most common ways that kids hide their online activities from their parents are by minimizing the browser when their parents are nearby (29%), hiding and deleting text messages (20%), and clearing the browser history (21%). Interestingly, girls are more likely to engage in the first two activities than boys.”

Ironically, my friend Holly Gordon Lundgren whom is certainly an intelligent, engaged mother of 3, shared with me her recent real-life experience on the topic; “Being a parent of 2 teenagers, I find this to be a very scary topic. I've caught one of them with a secret Twitter account and was astounded with what she was posting. Somehow she slipped under the radar of all of her parents. Scary to think what else they're hiding.”

I asked McAfee's Chief Cyber Security Mom Tracy Mooney for her opinion on any surprises or possible additional red flags for parents on teens hiding their online behavior:

BKH: What surprised you the most in the McAfee survey results?
TM: That 91% of the teens polled felt their parents trusted that they would do the right thing online but more than half of 13 - 15 year olds and 70% of 16-17 year olds knew how to hide what they were doing online. That's a huge discrepancy in trust versus behavior.

BKH: Did your son think there were any important points not uncovered or not a part of the survey?
TM: My son thought some of the numbers were conservative, such as the number of kids who know how to delete history. He would have liked to see statistics take into account the numbers of kids who know how to use proxy sites to get around web blocks at school.

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