Teens Hiding Online: Study Reveals Shocking Data

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A 2012 Teen Internet Behavior study commissioned by the security technology company, McAfee, reveals a surprising chasm between the number of teens hiding what they do on the Internet and parents who are confident that they’re in-the-know about their kids’ online activities. Perhaps most telling: 71% of teens have done something to hide their online behavior but only 56% of parents are aware of this. Over the next two weeks, we’ll explore what your teen may be hiding and how they may be doing it.

In the McAfee study, 2,017 online interviews were conducted in the U.S. Among respondents, 1,004 teens (age 13-17) and 1,013 parents of teens reported on their online habits and behaviors. The information gathered from respondents shows a fundamental disconnect between what teens are actually doing online and their parent’s perception of their activities. A surprising number of parents believe that they are aware of their kid’s activities and/or able to find out with little difficulty, while the majority of teens admit that they hide activities from their parents.

According to the McAfee report, “more than three in four parents express confidence they know how to find out what their teen is doing online, and half of parents live under the assumption that their teen tells then everything he/she does online. In reality, over two in three teens say their parents don’t need to know everything they do online…”


Here are some of the most common online activities that teens admit to hiding from their parents:

44.8% of teens visit a website parents disapprove of, but only 23.6% of parents are aware of it. In fact, the vast majority of parents interviewed (73.5%) trust their teens to not access age-inappropriate content online.

43% of teens intentionally access simulated violence online, but only 15% of parents are aware of it.

32% of teens intentionally access nude content or porn online, but only 12% of parents are aware of it.

In addition to visiting unsavory websites, easy access to technology has led many teens to participate in illegal or unauthorized activities. Most common, cheating in school: nearly half of teens interviewed (48%) admit to intentionally looking up answers to tests or assignments online while only 23% of parents expressed concern about their teen going online to cheat in school. A surprising 22% of teens have cheated on a test via online or mobile phones while only 5% of parents are aware.

Pirating of media is also more common than many parents are aware. About a third of teens (31%) pirate music or movies online, while only 12% of parents are aware. Since teens are likely using their parent’s internet connection to carry out the piracy, their illicit activities put their parents at risk of repercussions from entities looking to enforce copyright protection, such as the RIAA.

Even more disconcerting, some teens are engaging in dangerous behaviors and most parents are unaware of the risks their teen is undertaking: 12% of teens have met in person with someone they met online (that’s more than one out of every ten teenage respondents!) while only 4% of parents are aware. In fact, only 21.7% of parents think their teen can get in trouble online. Yet more than half of teens queried have posted private information like their email address or the name of their school online and almost a third (29%) have posted their cell phone number somewhere on the Internet. This puts them at risk for cyber bullying, identity theft, or even real-world victimization by those who’ve found them online.

What seems to be the cause of the disparity between parents’ perception and their teen’s actual behavior online? One in three parents believes that their teen is “much more tech-savvy than they are,” leading to a feeling of hopelessness when it comes to keeping ahead of their teen’s online activities. Many feel overwhelmed by technology (23% of respondents) and feel they can only “hope for the best when it comes to their kids online,” and just as many indicate that they don’t have the time or energy to monitor their kid’s behavior online.

The good news? Half of the teens who were polled stated that they would actually change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching. Stay tuned next week for the most common ways that teens are hiding their online activities and what you can do to keep your kids safe online.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.