Teens’ online secrets should be no surprise, but lessons in safety are still useful

6 Nov 2013

Image via Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Following a pilot scheme in Cork, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company McAfee is bringing its online safety initiative to schools across Ireland to educate kids, parents and teachers, and bridge the gaps in their knowledge.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD, launched McAfee’s Online Safety for Kids Programme at Government buildings in Dublin this morning.

“There is a global need for cyber education to teach our youth about what it means to be responsible online,” said McAfee president Michael DeCesare. “Our goal is to expand our reach and to forge partnerships within our local communities,” he added.

The McAfee programme aims to reach more than 10,000 young people, parents and teachers in Ireland next year. It will teach primary and secondary school children and their parents how to stay safe and secure online, as well as good online behaviour.

Digital Divide Study

To highlight the need for this programme in Ireland, McAfee also released the results of the Digital Divide Study, which surveyed 200 parents of teenagers and 200 teenagers aged 13 to 17 in October this year.

What parents don’t know

  • 53pc of teens wipe their browser history to hide what they’re doing online; 27pc of parents are aware of this
  • 46pc of teens have witnessed cruel behaviour online; one-third of parents are aware of this
  • 23pc of teens searched for pornography online; 10pc of parents are aware of this
  • 1 in 10 teens have sent or posted revealing pictures of themselves online; 4pc of parents are aware of this

Teens’ online activity

  • 56pc of teens have posted photos of themselves online
  • 56pc of teens viewed a video online that they know their parents wouldn’t approve of
  • 55pc of teens visited websites they know their parents would disapprove of
  • 49pc of teens view online content away from home to keep it secret
  • 45pc of teens downloaded pirated music or movies
  • 35pc of teens have accessed nude images or pornography online accidentally, by clicking on ads (47pc) and on YouTube (36pc)
  • 34pc of teens have looked up simulated violence online
  • 26pc of teens looked up sexual topics online
  • 24pc of teens don’t think posting the name of their school online is dangerous
  • One-fifth of teens accessed inappropriate content online that disturbed them
  • 12pc of teens have posted comments containing foul language, while the same amount said they regretted doing so afterwards
  • 17pc of teens don’t believe that posting their home address online is dangerous
  • 16pc of teens have been in trouble at home or at school for their activity on a social network
  • 11pc of teens have met up with someone they met online
  • 9pc of teens don’t believe posting the time and place they are meeting someone online is dangerous

What the parents think

  • 84pc of parents have had a conversation with their teen about being safe online
  • More than 70pc of parents are concerned about teens posting their home address online, or other details, such as their mobile number
  • 63pc of parents have not placed parental controls on the connected devices their teen has access to
  • 57pc of parents trust their children not to access inappropriate content
  • 40pc of parents have made teens divulge their passwords to email or social media accounts
  • 32pc of parents have resorted to taking away a teen’s mobile device or computer to protect them
  • 24pc of parents believe their children tell them everything they do on the internet

This research shows that there is a disconnect between what parents think their kids do online and what they actually get up to. More than one-third of teens spend three to five hours per day on the internet, and many are accessing inappropriate content despite their parents trusting them not to do so. Some have even accidentally stumbled upon pornographic content, demonstrating the importance of basic security settings to filter out this content.

“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, EMEA engineering VP 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 practising safe online behaviour.”

Opening up a dialogue

Ian Power, executive director of youth website SpunOut.ie, said it’s no surprise that teens keep things from their parents, and makes this generation no different from the last. “Young people are entitled to privacy as they progress through their teens and I think that, as we get older, we forget that we did the same when we were their age,” he said. “The simple difference is that now there are more sophisticated communication tools available to young people.”

Power also emphasised the importance of an open dialogue between parent and child. “I’m sure much of what the respondents to the survey are keeping to themselves is innocuous, but young people should be able to come to parents for advice when they experience problems or when things go wrong, much as they would offline,” he said.

McAfee advises frequent one-to-one conversations with teens on online risks and consequences of their actions, as well as implementing parental controls, and letting kids know that they are in place. On top of that, Power offered a reminder of the need for us all to be aware of how much we share online. “Adults and young people alike sometimes forget that we are all publishers on social media and we need to think before we post both to protect ourselves and the reputations and privacy of others,” he said.

Intel, Foróige and schools get involved

McAfee’s cyber-education programme started in the US in 2009 and, since then, has reached more than 150,000 young people, parents and teachers around the globe.

The pilot programme launched in Cork in January and, to date, 80 McAfee volunteers have taught at more than 30 schools and community centres, reaching more than 3,000 young people, parents and teachers.

To bring this programme to a national level, volunteers from Intel will also be enlisted, while a youth ambassador programme will give transition-year students the opportunity to educate those in local primary and secondary schools. McAfee has also partnered with youth organisation Foróige, which works with almost 60,000 young people across the country, to expand the programme beyond school-based learning.

“Foróige is committed to empowering young people to use technology to make the world a better place, but this can only happen if we fortify our young people with the knowledge and skills to navigate the online world safely,” said Seán Campbell, CEO of Foróige.

Materials for teacher organisations, the Department of Education and Skills and teacher training institutions will also be produced in order to equip the next generation of Irish educators with this valuable information.

Main image by Syda Productions via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.