Parents may think they know what their teenagers are doing online, but according to a study released Tuesday by McAfee, they are sorely mistaken.

Some of the findings of “2013 Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect Between Parents and Kids” include:

  • 46 percent of teens said they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were paying attention.
  • 62 percent of parents do not think their teens can get into serious trouble online.
  • 80 percent of parents have no idea how to monitor their kids’ online activities.
  • 74 percent of parents raised the white flag, saying they do not have the time or energy to keep up with their children online.
  • 39 percent of parents said they try to use parental controls to monitor their teens’ online activities, but their kids are often able to bypass the surveillance attempts.
  • 41 percent of tweens have passwords for their mobile apps set by their parents, but 92 percent of those tweens know the passwords, while 60 percent of the parents do not realize their kids know the passwords.
  • 71 percent of parents believe they have had conversations with their children about proper online behavior, while only 44 percent of teens reported having those conversations.
  • 85 percent of kids aged 10 through 12 admitted to having Facebook profiles, even though the minimum age to join the social network is 13.
  • 58 percent of those 10 through 12 believe they know how to hide their online activities from their parents, with nearly one-quarter resorting to tactics such as clearing their browser histories or using private browser settings.
  • 25 percent of kids spend five to six hours online per day, while the majority of parents believe that figure is closer to one hour to two hours.
  • 88 percent of teens believe social networks such as Facebook are safe and continue to post personal information such as email addresses (50 percent) and information on relationships (31 percent). Meanwhile, only 17 percent of parents are aware that their children share their email addresses, and only 12 percent are aware of shared relationship information.
  • 95 percent of teens have at least one social network account, led by Facebook (86 percent) and followed by Twitter (59 percent), Instagram (46 percent), Pinterest (42 percent), Tumblr (38 percent), and Snapchat (33 percent).
  • 22 percent of respondents aged 10 through 23 admitted to using mobile devices to hide activity from their parents, and 75 percent said they discover applications through their friends.
  • 27 percent of respondents aged 10 through 23 have witnessed cruel behavior on social networks, with 89 percent doing so on Facebook, 36 percent on Twitter, and 19 percent on Instagram.
  • 58 percent of respondents aged 18 through 23 posted comments on those sites, with 46 percent containing foul language and 26 percent perceived as mean.
  • 14 percent of respondents aged 13 through 23 have hacked into someone else’s social network accounts or emails.

McAfee Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Michelle Dennedy said:

It’s still the Wild West out there and, because they are digital natives, our youth are engaging in all kinds of unsafe behavior without the benefit of understanding how their actions will affect their lives. 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. Children of all ages are shouting out for guidance.

While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are rebelling online and hiding activity from their parents, what is concerning is the kinds of behaviors they are engaging in and that it extends to tweens. There is no sense of permanence and global reach with online sharing and posting among these age groups, so the onus really is upon the parents to accelerate their digital savvy and be actively engaged on educating their kids about how to live safely online.

Readers: Did any of the findings in McAfee’s “2013 Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect Between Parents and Kids” surprise you?

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