Parents are at a serious crossroads when it comes to what their teens are doing or seeing online, according to a National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) study of online safety attitudes and behaviors released today that reveals that up to 60 per cent of teens have online accounts that their parents are unaware of and 57 per cent of parents admit that they are in the dark about what their kids are dong online.
Co-sponsored by Microsoft, the study was designed to better understand the dynamic online lives of teenagers, including the kinds of problems they face in their digital daily lives and parents' levels of concern and engagement. While teenagers spend much of the day on their mobile phones, devices or computers using a wide range of apps and websites, parents admit to having a hard time keeping up with it. Additionally, 30 per cent of teens say their parents are "not aware at all" or "not very aware" of their online activities. The survey interviewed 804 online teens between the ages of 13 and 17 and a separate sample of 810 online parents, and found several signs of an apparent digital disconnect with a high reliance by teens on peer-to-peer support with 43 per cent of respondents saying friends have sought their support because they encountered issues online.
Additionally, a high percentage of parents (67 per cent) say that their teens are required to report any online incidents that make them feel scared or uncomfortable, but only 32 per cent of those in the teens survey say they are asked to follow this rule. The study suggests a widening gap in parental involvement with fifty percent of parents claiming they have rules requiring their kids to share account passwords, while only 16 per cent of teens report having such a rule. Fifty-four per cent of parents state they have rules about downloading new apps or joining social networks, yet only 16 per cent of teens report such a rule. And, 41 per cent of parents indicate there are daily limits on screen time for their children but only 15 per cent of teens say they have these kinds of limits.
The report found that teens indicate that they are not very likely to turn to their parents for help with various online problems. Forty-eight per cent claim they "never" or "rarely" turn to their parents. Yet, 65 per cent of parents say their kids are likely to share problems with them "most of or all the time."
The most disconcerting gap between parents and teenagers is when someone has been mean or cruel to a teen online, which has been experienced by 39 per cent of teens. Fifty-two per cent of those incidents involved a response to something a teen said or did, 45 per cent involved something about their appearance, and about one in four teens say the content was about their sexual orientation, gender or race.
Additionally, when teens face a serious problem online, 40 per cent say that a friend would be the first person they turn to, while 85 per cent of parents say they hope their child would come to them for help.
Online safety is often discussed in the home, however, with the majority of teens (78 per cent) saying that their parents have talked with them about ways to use the internet and mobile devices safely, and 78 per cent say their parents have talked to them about what should and should not be shared online or on cell phones.
Additionally, 73 per cent of teens claim their parents have talked with them about ways to behave toward other people online or on the phone, and 68 percent report having conversations with their parents about what they do online or on their mobile devices.
"It's gratifying to see that parents are taking on the challenge of educating their children on the fundamentals of online safety, but this survey shows that it's time to update our approach to the tech talk," said NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser. "In an era where there's a new app every day, it's important that we change the lens of online safety from a tracking and monitoring perspective to a more empowering approach that prepares young people to better respond to the various challenges they will likely encounter in their online lives. Equally critical is helping teens understand that their friends may seek their help with online problems, so they should be capable of offering helpful advice and also ascertaining when a situation requires adult assistance."
While teens and parents clearly diverge in a number of areas, they appear to have some consistent priorities and concerns. Both parents and teens also say they believe they have the ability to deal with encountering hateful or violent content effectively. Forty-eight percent of online teens say that if they were directed to online content containing extreme violence or hateful views that made them feel uncomfortable, they are "very confident" they could handle a situation like this on their own, while 21 per cent say they are "somewhat confident." Parents also express relatively high levels of confidence in their ability to help their children deal with this kind of scenario: half (50 per cent) say they are "very confident" and 37 per cent said they are "somewhat confident."
Moreover, both teens and parents express concerns about exposure to online extremist content. One in four teens (27 per cent) say they are "very concerned" that they might be directed to content about extreme political or religious activities that will make them feel uncomfortable. Similarly, 31 per cent of parents said they are "very concerned" about their children being directed to content containing extreme violence or hateful views.
The protection of personal information also remains a high safety and security concern for parents and teens. When it comes to learning more about internet-associated risks, both groups point to "preventing identity theft" as the number one topic they'd like to learn more about. Second and third on the list are "keeping my devices secure" and "how to identify fake emails, social posts and texts," respectively – again, indicating a strong desire to learn the basic steps to maintaining online security.