A fifth of all Irish teenagers have accessed inappropriate content online that disturbed them, according to ‘Digital Divide,’ a new study conducted in Ireland by McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security company. The study also found that while Irish parents believe their children are doing enough to protect themselves from online dangers, that this is not the case. The research coincides with today’s announcement that the McAfee Online Safety for Kids programme will now extend nationally across Ireland. The programme aims to educate children about staying safe online and was launched today by Taoiseach, Enda Kenny.
The Digital Divide study reveals the alarming disconnect between the online activity that parents believe their children participate in, and the reality of the online behaviour of Irish teenagers. While one in four parents (24 per cent) live under the assumption that their teen tells them everything they do on the Internet, the research discovered a majority of teens are taking a number of steps to hide their online behaviour. Over half (53 per cent) of teens admitted to wiping their browser history and 49 per cent viewed online content away from home to keep their online behaviour hidden.
This disconnect between parents and teens is leading to many teenagers undertaking questionable, dangerous and even illegal activity:
- Disturbingly, more than one in 10 (11 per cent) said they had actually met up with someone they met online
- Despite 57 per cent of parents trusting their child not to access inappropriate content online, 23 per cent of teens admitted intentionally searching for pornography, 26 per cent have looked up sexual topics online and 56 per cent have viewed a video they know their parents wouldn’t approve of
- A third of teens (33 per cent) have looked up answers to a test/assignment online
- Just over a third (34 per cent) have looked up simulated violence online
- One in 10 teens admitted to having posted revealing pictures of themselves online, with 12 per cent posting a comment containing foul language online with the same amount regretting it later
- Sixteen per cent admitted to getting into trouble at home or at school as a result of being on a social network
- Over half (55 per cent) have visited websites they know their parents would disapprove of
- Forth-Five per cent downloaded pirated music or movies online
Online behaviour of teens:
The study revealed that Irish parents are aware of the much-publicised dangers associated with data and identity theft and more than 70 per cent are concerned about their teens posting their home address online, and sharing other details such as their mobile number. Despite this level of awareness from parents, more work needs to be done to educate teenagers on the risks associated with ‘over-sharing’ on the Internet:
- Roughly a quarter (24 per cent) don’t believe posting the name of their school online is dangerous
- Almost one in ten (9 per cent) don’t believe posting the time and place of meeting someone online is dangerous
- Over half of teens (56 per cent) have posted a photo of themselves online
- Seventeen per cent of teens don’t believe that posting their home address online is very dangerous
Parental Monitoring and Involvement
A high number of Irish parents surveyed (84 per cent) claim to have had a conversation with their teenage child about being safe online indicating the importance parents place on online safety. Despite these efforts however, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) have not placed parental controls on the connected devices their teen has access to. With over a third (35 per cent) of teens having accessed nude images or pornography online accidently by clicking adverts (47 per cent) and on YouTube (36 per cent), basic security settings to filter inappropriate content is a must.
Other steps parents have taken to protect children include making their teen provide the password to email or social network accounts (40 per cent) and resorting to taking away their teen’s mobile device or computer (32 per cent), suggesting more needs to be done to help parents discuss online behaviour and the ‘rights from wrongs’ with their teens.
Proactive Steps Parents Can Take
“We believe the findings from this study will come as quite a shock to some parents, and we hope it will encourage them to take immediate action to protect their children,” said Paul Walsh, Vice President, Engineering, EMEA at McAfee. “It is clear that a huge gap exists between what teens are doing online, and what parents are aware of. Parents must take an active role to ensure their teens are practicing safe online behaviour.”
- Parents should have 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 actions
- Parents must also be diligent about setting up parental controls, which includes keeping a watchful eye to know if / when teens discover ways around them
- Parents should be upfront with teens about monitors and controls implemented on their internet devices, as many teens would think twice about their online activities if they knew parents were watching
“Having grown up in the 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,” he continued. “But parents cannot give up – they must challenge themselves to become familiar with the complexities of the online universe and educate themselves about the various threats that await their teens online.”
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