The Digital Divide: Do Parents Really Know Their Teen’s Online Behavior?

Posted: August 16, 2012 in Entertainment/Media, Parents & Families, Youth Culture & Trends
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The back-to-school is season is rapidly approaching and parents all over are gearing up to send their kids back to the grinds of the academic institutions.  But perhaps it’s the parents, or at least a good portion of them, that need to check back into school…or should I say…reality?  This might not be a shocker to many of you reading this, but yet again we see stats alerting parents that there is a disconnect between what they think they know about the online habits and patterns of their tens/pre-teens, and what is actually the reality of what those habits & patterns are.

The Internet has become an almost necessity in the daily lives of adults, and certainly a central component in the lives teenagers, especially with the advances in the smart phone industry. In June 2012, McAfee Software released the results of a survey they compiled called “The Digital Divide”, which revealed insights on teen’s online behavior, and parental knowledge (or lack of!).

Now before I go on, I shouldn’t be too hard on parents, especially those with teenagers.  Raising kids in a digital age is no easy task, and I’m on the ‘other side’ still with pre-middle school kids that need our permission and password before they can use our laptop, smartphone and E-pad!  So by no means am I pointing fingers or suggesting I’m ahead of anyone in the area of parental awareness.  But the stats are pretty staggering as to what many parents claim they know, and what the reality really is with their teens online activity.

Here’s a quick peak at some of the results (make sure you read the full 5 page easy-read survey in the link above)

  • average time teen spends per day online (5)…parents think their kids spend 2 hours a day online
  • 53.3% of teens clear their browser history vs. 17.5% of parents being aware of that
  • 45.9% of teens minimize the browser when in view vs. 16.6% parental awareness
  • 21.7% of parents think their teens can get in trouble online
  • 36% of teens intentionally access sexual topics online vs. 11% of parental awareness
  • 32% of teens intentionally access nude content or porn online vs. 12% of parents knowledge
  • Of those who have intentionally accessed pornography, 43% do so on weekly basis vs. 18% of parents being aware
  • 70% of Teens have hidden their online behavior from their parents…up from 45% in 2010
  • 50% of teens said they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching
  • 23.3% of teens have claimed to be targets of cyber bullying vs. 10% of parents believing that to be true
  • 29% of parents feel overwhelmed by technology and hope for the best when it comes to their kids online choices

Yikes! Some pretty attention-grabbing statistics…but just because that’s what the stats say is the current condition, doesn’t mean that’s the way things ought to be…or how things should remain!  The biggest thing for parents is to develop healthy and authentic transparency with their kids at an early age, yet balancing that without being an over-the-shoulder or helicopter parent.  An initial step in the right direction is making sure you engage in ongoing dialogue with your kids about their online habits and choices.

Parents still set the boundaries in the home (or at least they should be!), and even though mom and dad may not be aware or in control of everything their teens are up to, they are definitely responsible and accountable for the areas they can control and monitor.  If your child lives at home with you and you have computer and internet access, chances are it would be pretty difficult for them to hide the fact they’re they are spending time online.  And as a parent, we have the responsibility (not the right…there’s a difference) to have conversations about, and set boundaries with, our kids online usage.  And a challenge to all us parents out there…our current online behavior and usage often models what our children’s future habits and behavior will look like!  Pretty much every parent desires to be a good parent, so let’s make sure we’re setting the bar high for ourselves first, before we expect our kids to follow suit.

And a message to you teens out there…you’ve got tremendous opportunities of influence all around you every day…make the most of those and maybe you can be part of a revolution of youth who are going to be part of taking back what the world is looking to steal from your purity, character and future!

You can also find some excellent parental suggestions at the bottom of the linked survey.

As your teens and pre-teens are heading back to school soon, have you started the conversations about their online lives?  If so, how have those been going, and what insight would you share with us?


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