The Secret Life of Teens on the Internet

Parents who think they’ve got a handle on their teens’ Internet use may be shocked by the results of a new study by Harris Interactive.  The survey of teens, conducted on behalf of McAfee, reveals that despite our warnings, many kids regularly engage in risky online behavior.

They talk to strangers, reveal personal information and download x-rated content.  And it’s not because they don’t know better.

The report reveals that 55% of 13 to 17-year-olds intentionally hide their online activities from mom and dad.  And they are good at it.  38% admit to closing or minimizing their browsers when a parent enters the room and 32% regularly clear their browser history when they log off.

So, just what are they getting up to that they don’t want us to know about?  They are breaking the online safety rules in a major way:

  • 69 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds have updated their status on social networking sites to include their physical location
  • 28 percent of teens chat with people they don’t know in the offline world — 43 percent shared their first name
  • 24 percent shared their email address
  • 18 percent shared a personal photo of themselves
  • 12 percent shared their cell phone number

Girls were found to be more likely to chat with strangers online than boys and also more likely to give a physical description of themselves to an online acquaintance.

And cyberbullying?  They know what it is but 14%  admit to doing it and nearly half say they wouldn’t know what to do if they themselves were being cyberbullied.

And if all this risky online behavior isn’t bad enough, they are also messing up the family computer. Nearly half admit to downloading music or videos from free sites, putting them at greater risk of infecting their computers with viruses, worms and other harmful files.  In fact, 27% say they have accidentally allowed harmful software to infect their computers.  Many of those probably came courtesy of the 16% of 16 to 17-year-old boys who admit to downloading x-rated content.

So what’s a parent of sneaky teen to do?  Considering the fact that 87% say they go online somehwere other than at home, tracking software and other means of spying on them aren’t going to do the trick.  That leaves talking to them.  A lot and often.  But because teens often have difficulty understanding and appreciating the long-term consequences of their actions, keeping them safe on the Internet will always be a challenge.

How do you make sure your teens aren’t engaging in risky online behavior.  And how confident are you that you really know what they are doing?

Image: Christina Welsh/Flickr

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