SANDY — Young people use their parents' technical limitations and lack of time to their advantage as they hide online activities that are sometimes risky, rude and even illegal, according to a study by McAfee on how kids behave online, including activities their parents might not suspect.
The report, "Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents and Kids," said what parents think their kids are up to is not reality in many cases. Tech-savvy kids know how to hide activities from parents who are strapped for time, trust their kids and may lack skills to figure out precisely where their little "digital natives" are playing in cyberspace.
For Michelle Dennedy, vice president and chief privacy officer at McAfee, the surprise is not that kids push the envelope. It's that so many — about 74 percent of parents — give up trying to monitor their kids and how they use technology because they feel inadequate to do so effectively.
"I don't think that 'it's hard' is a good excuse," Dennedy said. "Instead of giving up, take it piece by piece. And start young." Parents who have not already talked to their kids about boundaries when it comes to tech, social networks and how they use the Internet may find it's too late to effect change, she warned.
But there's a lot at stake, and parents really don't always know what's going on. More than half of the young people surveyed admit they use the Internet to search out sexual topics; when asked, parents put the number around 13 percent. Nearly half of the kids have looked up videos or websites their parents would not approve of and more than a third seek out simulated or real violence online.
"This study has made it exceedingly clear that parents need to get involved, to understand what their children are doing online, and to engage them in a myriad of ways that will keep them living safe online," Dennedy said. "Children of all ages are shouting for guidance."
How it happens
It's a problem fueled by complacency and exhaustion, experts say. Sixty-two percent of parents don't think their kids can get in serious trouble online. But even if they are worried, the study showed that 80 percent of parents don't know how to find out what their kids are doing online and three-quarters "simply admit defeat and claim they do not have the time or energy to keep up with their children." They "hope for the best."
The report said children often manage to bypass surveillance if their parents deploy it — and fewer than 4 in 10 do. The vast majority of kids (92 percent) know passwords set by their parents, while more than half of parents think the passwords are secret from their kids.
As for Internet safety, 71 percent of parents think they've talked to their kids about how to behave online, but only 44 percent of the youths agree.
The survey included 1,173 youths and 1,301 parents. The 2013 survey is the first by McAfee to specifically look at the risky behaviors of children 10-12, the so-called "tweens." They are supposedly too young to engage on social media sites like Facebook, but 85 percent say they have their own Facebook profiles. And 58 percent of them "believe they know how to hide what they do from their parents online," the report said. That includes the quarter who erase traces of where they have been online or use private browser settings to hide activity.
Teens outfox their parents in a variety of ways, including using social media sites parents don't know exist. The survey said the most popular social site among the young people is Facebook, followed by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapchat.
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