Friday, July 2, 2010

McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” Survey Report, Part 5 – What Parents Can Do


Part 5 of a 5-Part Series
Photo Credit Flickr Creative Common
It is easy for parents to feel overwhelmed after digesting the information and statistics revealed in the McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” survey results. The bad news is most teens, yes even your teens, are not taking online safety warnings as serious as parents want to believe they do. The survey results clearly affirm teens continue to share personal information online with people they do not know and hide most, if not all, of their online activities from parents. Cyberbullying is still a significant problem, and it appears it will remain a serious teen threat in the near future.

McAfee Chief Security Cyber Mom Tracy Mooney sums it up well, “Keeping kids safe no longer only means teaching them about the dangers of alcohol or how to deal with a school bully. This report is a wake-up call to the real dangers our teens face when they make themselves vulnerable online. As a mom, it worries me that kids aren’t practicing safe ˜street smarts” when they’re online.”

The good news though is the real world knowledge the McAfee study provides is power for parents and a good starting point for moving forward to maximize their teen’s online safety. Now that parents know the alarming “secret life of teens” online behavior confirmed in the McAfee data, parents can take steps to empower everyone in the situation.

There is no point in getting mad at your teens or going off the deep-end and forbidding technology in their lives. It is important to remember, like all crazy and unsafe teen behavior, the main reason it is happening is simply because teens have limited life experience (and therefore limited mistakes and consequences as learning experiences) to draw from; and as we all hopefully can still remember, it’s natural for teens to believe they are invincible – that bad things that happen to other teens will not happen to them. The majority of teens are good kids, but good judgment often comes with maturity.
                                                                                                              Photo Credit Flickr Creative Common

What can parents do? A consistent message and good communication is key as it is in any relationship. Ask lots of questions. Role play to creatively point out scenarios your teens may not automatically consider inappropriate or dangerous. Role playing also offers teens specific words to use in situations that may be beyond their maturity to formulate without these parental examples.

I asked McAfee’s Tracy Mooney some additional teen safety questions.

BKH: Are most parents as tech savvy as their teens in 2010?
TM: The younger ones are! But there is still a huge gap in parents being as tech savvy as they should be.

BKH: What can parents do when they understand there is a problem? What do they normally do?
TM: If your kids behavior changes suddenly, trust your instincts and ask if anything is wrong and don't give up if they say "nothing" the first time. Just be available for them if they make a mistake. That’s our job - to catch them when they fall.

BKH: What do you consider to be the single largest threat with the most impact for teens online?
TM: I think the single largest online threat for teens is Cyberbullying. Every few months we hear the terrible news that another teen has taken their life because they could no longer take the way they were being treated by their peers online. With 14% of teens participating in Cyberbullying and 22% of the teens polled not knowing what to do if they experience it. I think it is time for more to be done to stop it. As a parent, I have talked to my teens and made it clear that they are under no circumstances to participate in Cyberbullying. And, if they ever feel like they are being mistreated by their peers, they know they can come talk to me.

BKH: Are law enforcement and current laws on the books keeping up with these threats?
TM: Adequate laws are not yet on the books for cyber criminals to be prosecuted in all cases.

BKH: If there is a problem, when should it be reported and to whom?
TM: If you suspect that your teen has been the victim of an online crime, you should call your local law enforcement immediately.

BKH: What are the most important things parents can do to keep their teens safe?
TM: Start talking to your kids as soon as they start using the computer about how to stay safe. 85% of teens use a computer someplace other than home, so make sure your kids know how to play safe even when they aren't at home. Not sharing passwords, "what goes online, stays online", strangers online equals strangers offline, and not giving out location are all things to talk about with your kids.

BKH: What age is appropriate for kids to be given their own laptop and cell phone?
TM: This is a personal decision for each family to make. In my family, cell phones with very limited plans are given in sixth grade - about the time that after school activities start to kick into high gear. My oldest son got a laptop when he started college. Family computers are shared before that and laptops are not allowed in bedrooms. Every family needs to make that decision for themselves and also remember that computers are not the only device that kids can go online with these days.

BKH: Do parents know the password to their teens' accounts? If not, why not?
TM: That’s also a personal choice question which varies from family to family.

BKH: Do most parents check the history regularly on their teens' computers? Their text message history on their teen's cell?
TM: They should! 32% of teens clear the browser history when they are done using the computer. An empty "history" after your teen has used the computer should be a big wake-up call that kids are doing something that they should not.

BKH: Do most parents use parental controls on their computer and teen's cell phone? If not, why not?
TM: I don't think most parents use parental controls, because they don't realize that the technology has changed from the very restrictive one size fits all parental controls from years ago. I don't think many parents know that parental controls are available for cell phones. I use McAfee Family Protection for my family. I love that I can set each kid with an account that I customize just for them.

BKH: Do most parents have regular talks with their teens about safety - weekly, monthly, bi-monthly?
TM: I don't think so. I use current events surrounding Internet safety to spur conversations with my kids. I start the most difficult conversations when we are driving in the car so they are a captive audience!

BKH: Thanks again Tracy for all the valuable information you provided for this series!

Acknowledging they must monitor their teen’s online activity in addition to talking to their teens to keep them safe may be tough emotionally and logistically for many parents. Yet, living in denial or minimizing the problem isn’t a realistic attitude in today’s online world. Monitoring teens online comes from the same place for a parent as worrying about a teen with a new driver’s license. It is not that you do not trust their driving ability necessarily – it is that you do not trust the other drivers they will come in contact with on the road.

In conjunction with the June 22, McAfee “Secret Life of Teens” survey results release, McAfee announced its new product offering of the McAfee Family Protection iPhone, iPod touch and iPad Edition. This product helps empower parents in dealing with the reality contained in the McAfee survey. McAfee now provides strong parental controls to keep children safe when they are browsing the Internet on an Apple mobile device. McAfee released McAfee® Family Protection for the PC in June 2009.

McAfee® Family Protection iPhone, iPod touch and iPad Edition offers Web site and search filtering. The program will automatically block age-inappropriate sites, such as known pornography web sites. It also includes location tracking for Apple devices that are equipped with GPS.

Parents can also view usage statistics, including visited websites and access times, as well as add and remove custom websites while having the option to remotely disable all Web browsing. The McAfee survey concluded 65% of students revealed they use their mobile devices at their school. Parents can now block mobile Internet usage during hours they deem inappropriate.

McAfee’s Tracy Mooney speaks for many, “Parents want their kids to enjoy their mobile online experience and also want them to be aware of how to be safe when on line. I’ve tried to be vigilant about checking in from time to time to see what my kids are doing online, but I know that my kids have more access now than ever with their mobile device. This product will help parents be at ease when they are equipping their kids with the latest technology.”

McAfee Family Protection iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad Edition is available for download now at the iTunes App Store and McAfee.com for $19.99. For more information about McAfee mobile products, you can visit http://m.mcafee.com/.

Photo Credit Flickr Creative Common
The reality is it is hard to trust a teen’s online judgment as much as most parents probably did before reading the McAfee survey results. A smart approach to trust with teens realistically is “trust, but verify”. Stepping up teen online monitoring is not a reflection of trusting your teen – it is a realistic step in keeping them safe, even if they hate you in the moment for doing it. After all, now that you are a parent, you understand why your mom and dad did the things they did when you were a teen. Ten years from now, your teens will too.

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