Parents think they’ve got a handle on their teens online activity, but most have no idea what their kids are up to on computers and smartphones.
Confirming this is a new study by security vendor McAfee. It found that 73.5 percent of parents trust their teens won’t access inappropriate content online.
Yet more than 70 percent of teens have figured out how to avoid parental monitoring, up from 45 percent in a 2010 study.
So what are today’s teens doing online?
About a third are looking at pornography.
While 12 percent of parents think their teens are getting to online porn, it turns out 32 percent have done so intentionally and 43 percent of them do so on a weekly basis “if not more frequently,” McAfee said in its release.
Some 43 percent have “accessed simulated violence online” and 31 percent access pirated movies and music.
Cheating’s also popular. While 77 percent of parents said they’re not too concerned about cheating online, 48 percent of teens have looked up answers online and 16 percent admitted to using their phones to look for test answers.
“While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are engaging in the same types of rebellious behaviors online that they exhibit offline, it is surprising how disconnected their parents are,” McAfee’s “online safety expert” Stanley Holditch said in the release.
“There is a major increase in the number of teens finding ways to hide what they do online from their parents, as compared to the 2010 study. This is a generation that is so comfortable with technology that they are surpassing their parents in understanding and getting away with behaviors that are putting their safety at risk.”
McAfee also mentioned “accessing sexual topics online” alongside porn consumption, noting that 36 percent of teens — and more girls than boys — have looked into topics such as STD’s and pregnancy issues. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, if online sources provide needed guidance.
More troubling is that 62 percent of teens have seen cruel behavior online and 23 percent claimed to be targets of cyberbullying, while only 10 percent of parents think their kids have been targeted. McAfee said white kids ages 16 and 17 are most likely to be targeted.
The study found 9.5 percent of teens admit to bullying online and 25 percent said they post mean comments.
The data came from 2,017 online interviews of teens aged 13 to 17 and their parents. The parent and teen group samples have a 3.1 percent margin of error — so perhaps only 29 percent of teens are surfing for porn, or maybe it’s 35 percent?
Meanwhile,less than half of parents are taking steps to get a handle on this activity. McAfee found 49 percent set up parental controls, 44 percent get email and social network passswords and 27 percent have taken away computers and mobile devices.
Another 23 percent of parents “disclosed that they are not monitoring their children’s online behaviors because they are overwhelmed by technology.”
So what are the tricks teens use to fool their parents?
Here’s McAfee’s list:
1. Clearing the browser history (53%).
2. Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%).
3. Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%).
4. Lie or omit details about online activities (23%).
5. Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%).
6. Use an Internet-enabled mobile device (21%).
7. Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%).
8. Use private browsing modes (20%).
9. Create private email address unknown to parents (15%).
10.Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%).
For parents wondering what to do, McAfee offered a few bits of advice, urging them to get engaged and keep up.
“You must challenge yourselves to become familiar with the complexities of the teen online universe and stay educated on the various devices your teens are using to go online,” its online security evangelist, Robert Siciliano, said in a blog post.
Microsoft also provides family safety advice for parents, including links to its free parental control software.
Here’s the full study: