Study: Most Parents Have No Clue What Their Teens Are Doing On Facebook, Online

By David Cohen 

Six out of 10 teens have witnessed cruel behavior online, and 93 percent of those who have said it took place on Facebook, according to the results of a new study by McAfee, which also found that only one out of four parents is aware of that behavior.

The study, The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents, highlighted the discrepancies between what parents think about their teens’ online use, and what really happens, as well as the methods teens use to throw parents off their trail.

McAfee found that more than three out of four parents believe they know what their teen is doing online, and one-half of them believe their teen tells them everything they do online, while two out of three teens said there is no reason for their parents to know everything they do online, and one-half of teens said they would change their online behavior if their parents were watching.

According to McAfee, measures adopted by parents have included:

  • 49.1 percent install parental controls (the majority have teens between the ages of 13 and 15, 33.3 percent)
  • 44.3 percent know their teens’ passwords
  • 27 percent have taken their teens’ devices
  • 10.3 percent use location tracking to monitor their teens
  • 3.5 percent have consulted psychologists for help
  • 36.2 percent of black parents say they do nothing to monitor their children’s online behaviors (the highest among the races)

So, how have the teens been fooling their parents? According to McAfee:

  • 70 percent of teens have hidden their online behavior from their parents, up from 45 percent in 2010
  • Clearing the browser history: 53 percent
  • Closing or minimizing browsers when parents walked in: 46 percent
  • Hiding or delete instant messages or videos: 34 percent
  • Lying or leaving out details about online activities: 23 percent
  • Using a computer their parents don’t check: 23 percent
  • Using an Internet-enabled mobile device: 21 percent
  • Using privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends: 20 percent
  • Using private browsing modes: 20 percent
  • Creating private email addresses unknown to parents: 15 percent
  • Creating duplicate or fake social network profiles: 9 percent

Are parents aware of any of this? Not enough, according to McAfee, which found that:

  • 61 percent of teens feel confident that they know how to hide what they do online from parents, and 71 percent have actually done something to hide their online behavior, while only 56 percent of parents are aware of this
  • Clearing browser history: 53.3 percent of teens do it, 17.5 percent of parents are aware
  • Minimizing browser: 45.9 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively
  • Hiding or deleting inappropriate videos: 18.9 percent/5.4 percent
  • Lying about behavior: 22.9 percent/10.5 percent
  • Using phone: 21.3 percent/9.7 percent
  • Manipulating social media privacy settings to block parents: 19.9 percent/8.1 percent
  • Utilizing private browsing: 19.5 percent/3.7 percent
  • Disabling parental controls: 12.8 percent/3.8 percent
  • 14.7 percent of teens have email addresses and 8.7 percent have duplicate social media profiles that their parents do not know about
  • Females are more likely to manipulate and hide their online behaviors from their parents

So what can parents do about this? McAfee concluded:

Parents must be jolted out of their complacency. A huge gap exists between what teens are doing online and what parents really know. Parents must take an active role to ensure their teens are practicing safe online behavior.

This involves frequent one-to-one conversations with teens to get through to them about the choices they’re making online and the risks and consequences of their choices.

Parents must also be diligent about setting parental controls, which includes keeping a watchful eye to know if/when teens discover ways around them, as many already have.

Parents should be upfront with teens about monitors and controls implemented on their Internet devices, as half of teens say they would think twice about their online activities if they knew parents were watching.

Parents must stay in the know. Having grown up in an online world, teens are often more online-savvy than their parents, making it difficult for parents to provide the necessary guidance, and, therefore, reinforcing teens’ online vulnerability. But parents cannot give up. Parents must challenge themselves to become familiar with the complexities of the teen online universe and educate themselves about the various devices their teens are using to go online.

Readers: Did any of the results in The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents surprise you?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.