Deceiving one’s parents has always been a hallmark of teenage adolescence. But could it be that digital technology is making that time-tested behavior easier and more prevalent? When the security software company McAfee studied teen behavior in 2010, 45% of the teens polled admitted to hiding online behavior from their parents. In the company’s 2012 Teen Internet Behavior study 70% of teens said they routinely find ways to avoid parental monitoring of their online activities.
The study of teen online habits, behaviors, interests, and lifestyles reveals that teens are not only engaging more in risky behaviors and hiding their actions from their parents, a large number of parents are naive about what their kids are doing. For example, 73% of parents say they trust their teens to not access age-inappropriate content online. Meanwhile, 43% of teens say they have accessed simulated violence online, 36% have accessed sexual topics, and 32% have accessed nude content or pornography. Of those who access porn, 43% do it weekly or more often.
In another example of the gulf between what kids do with digital technology and what parents think they do, 77% of parents said they were not very or not at all worried about their kids behaving illegally or unethically online. Teens, on the other hand, said they have hacked someone’s social network account (15%), accessed pirated movies and music (31%), hacked someone’s email (9%), searched for test answers on their mobile phone (16%), and looked up test answers online (48%).
Proactive parents say they are attempting to keep their kids safe online by: setting parental controls (49%), obtaining email and social network passwords (44%), taking away computer and mobile devices (27%), and using location-based devices to keep track of teens (10%).
At the same time, almost one out of four (23%) of the parents surveyed said they are not monitoring their children’s online behaviors because they are “overwhelmed by the technology.” About as many say they don’t have the time or energy to keep up with everything their kids do online. One in three parents feel they are helpless to keep up with their teen’s online behaviors because their kid is much more tech-savvy.
Other study findings:
- More than half of teens with a social network account have experienced negative consequences including, arguing with friends (35%), getting into trouble at home or school (25%), ending friendships (20%), fearing for their safety (7%), and physical fights (4%). Conversely, many parents live in denial, with only 22% claiming that their teens can get into that much trouble online.
- On average, teens spend about five hours a day online; while parents only think their kids spend an average of three hours a day online. About 10% of teens spend more than 10 hours a day online
- Teens are glued to their news feeds with 60% of social network users checking their accounts daily and 41% checking their accounts constantly. Only 48% of parents think their teens check their accounts daily, and only 22% believe their teens check their accounts constantly.
- 12% of teens reported meeting someone offline that they only knew through online interactions.
- Tumblr and 4chan networks are increasing in popularity with a distinct divide between who prefers each site. Tumblr is more popular with teen females (40.9%) and 4chan is more popular with teen males (29.8%). As popular as these networks have become, many parents are unaware of their existence and their teen’s usage. Only 13% of parents believe their teens are active on 4chan or other online image boards or discussion boards, and only 16% of parents believe their teens are active on Tumblr.
- 49% of teens post risky comments on social networks (such as foul language — 39% and hooking up with someone — 10%), with 16.3% of those comments containing information they would not want their parents to know about. 21.5% of teens post photos on social networks, with 7.5% featuring those teens in revealing clothing and 4.1% feature intoxication.
- 62.1% of all teens have witnessed cruel behavior online and 23.3% have been targets of cyberbullying, while only 10% of parents believe their teens have been targeted online.
- Many teens have felt social pressure to participate in cyberbullying, with 9.5% of teens actually bullying, and 24.9% posting mean comments.
Ed. Note: When it comes to digital technology, and specifically to teenage subterfuge, parents are playing sandlot baseball and their kids are playing in the big leagues.
Parents have always faced the challenge of trying to keep their kids safe by monitoring their actions as they explore and learn about the world. The difference now is that kids have an entirely new world to experience, one that has many more dangers and many more opportunities to make bad teenage decisions.
Before the Internet and mobile communications parents could more easily monitor the movements and relationships of their teens. They could limit transportation and require periodic check-ins. They could check out the stories their kids told them with a phone call or two. They could check under the mattress for magazines.
The digital literacy gap between teens and their parents works to the benefit of deceitful teens, who are relatively free to do whatever they want online. In the online environment many of the tools for tracking, verifying and monitoring teenage activity are arcane and complex. The ones that work can be worked around. Buying a kid a laptop and broadband is a little like handing them $1,500 and the keys to the car and sending them off to Las Vegas for a week.
The obvious Literacy 2.0 requirement for parents is technical education and access to the right security tools.
The less obvious need is for a new attitude toward what it means to monitor.
Ideally, a parent could just sit in the back seat of the car and go to Vegas with their kid. Because that might be just a bit too intrusive and could scar the child for life, parents need a different approach. They need a Literacy 2.0 point of view, which means going to Vegas themselves. Parents need a clear, firsthand understanding of what is out there in cyberspace and what their kids might be doing — what the options are.
If parents go to Vegas and only see Celine Dion they are missing the experience. They need to go where the teens go, or could go. To do that parents need some help thinking like an adolescent let loose in Vegas with a wad of cash.
If the security companies like McAfee really want to help parents they should teach parents to act like online teens. What is needed is a software program or website that lets parents think and act like teens in cyberspace, taking the parents where teens go, letting them interact — at least in simulation — like teens act. The service should give parents a teen’s eye view of the positive and negative aspects of the online world. The parents should emerge from the experience exhausted, hungover and feeling a little guilty.
The immersive experience should leave parents with a clear sense of what is happening and what could happen in Vegas. With that knowledge parents would be better equipped to monitor behaviors, ask questions and have open dialog with their kids. And, when necessary, the parents would know how to cut off the funds and when to take away the car keys.
Original photo by Inthesitymad