by Bill Snyder

McAfee Survey Shocker: Teens Lie to Parents About Online Habits!

Jun 26, 20123 mins

A new McAfee survey shows that when it comes to their teens' online habits, parents are out to lunch. So what else is new? Still, despite online activity being mostly harmless, parents are being duped by kids on the Web in the simplest of ways and should get a clue.

Do you know what your teenager is doing online? Chances are you think you do, and chances are equally good that you don’t have a clue.

While it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who has spent time around teenagers, a survey by a security vendor confirms the news: Teens do what they want online, no matter what they tell their parents, and they have no trouble at all hiding their tracks.

Online privacy
What’s more, the McAfee survey confirms some of your worst fears: Teens do lots of things online that their parents would characterize as risky and inappropriate. Here’s my favorite part of the study: Nearly three-quarters of the parents surveyed say they trust their teens “not to access age-inappropriate content online.”

How’s that working out?

“Specifically 43 percent of teens have accessed simulated violence online, 36 percent have accessed sexual topics online, and 32 percent have accessed nude content or pornography online,” the McAfee report states.

I’m being a bit snarky here because the only thing shocking about this survey is that anybody is surprised by it. Of course teens take risks, and of course they have no intention of letting you know what they’re up to. It’s the nature of the beast. And why should it be any different in the online world?

When I was a kid, I was as interested in sex as anybody else my age, and it wasn’t hard to get my hands on everything from Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” (“Hey! Read page 73”) to Playboy. That would not have made my parents happy, and it may have been illegal for the guy at the cigar store to sell me that stuff. But who was watching? And was anyone really hurt? I’m not at all sure that online X-rated stuff is, at bottom, any different.

Indeed, a task force created by 49 state attorneys general in 2009 to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

That’s not to say that bad things don’t happen online. Of course they do, and I’d like to see social media companies like Facebook make it tougher for young people to gain unrestricted access to people and activities that are either not appropriate for their age or make it too easy for them to meet a potential predator.

Still, if you’ve followed the furor over Facebook access by youngsters, the obvious fact is that kids lie about their age — sometimes with the participation of their parents — to open accounts, so what McAfee found should come as no surprise.

With that said, here are some of the mostly dead simple ways kids fool their parents.

  • Clearing the browser history (53%)
  • Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%)
  • Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
  • Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
  • Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%)
  • Use an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
  • Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
  • Use private browsing modes (20%)
  • Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
  • Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)

One final thought: Over lunch with a now grown daughter this week, I discussed the findings of the McAfee survey. Her response: “I remember how you restricted our AOL access. What were you thinking?” Good question.