You Have No Idea What Your Teenager Is Up to Online

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Parents of teenagers have always been a little clueless as to what their children are really up to — but thanks to the internet, parents are even less aware of what their children are up to. According to a new study, most teenagers are doing something online that they’re hiding from their parents, everything from hacking into peers’ Facebook pages to cheating on schoolwork to engaging in cyber-bullying. So what’s a parent to do?

It’s tricky to suss out just how much online privacy is healthy for teenagers, the authors of the study point out. “It’s perfectly normal for teens to be less than forthcoming during these years… However the Internet has drastically changed our culture and teens today have access to an incredible amount of information that they didn’t have just a decade ago,” writes Robert Silciliano of security technology company McAfee, which commissioned the study.

What’s worrying is the gap between what parents believe and what teenagers are actually doing. According to the study, nearly three quarters of parents trust that their teens aren’t accessing “age-inappropriate” content online, but just as many kids report hiding their online behavior from the adults in their lives. Parents report that their children are spending about three hours a day on their computers, but teens are actually online around five hours a day. (And 10 percent of teenagers report spending more than ten hours a day online.)

Part of the problem is that today’s teenagers are vastly more internet savvy than their parents. They’re confident with privacy settings and proxy servers; they know to create fake or duplicate online profiles to mask certain behaviors. Some parents are starting to catch up, deploying counter-measures such as enacting parental controls (49 percent), demanding passwords to email and Facebook (44 percent), or even using location tracking devices (10 percent).

But is this really a war that can be won with technology? If teenagers are posting mean comments (24.9 percent), looking at porn (32 percent), and ending friendships because of online drama (20 percent), no amount of cyber-security is going to stop them for long. Maybe the best solution to high-tech parenting problems is the old-fashioned method:  try talking to them.

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