Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Secrets of teenagers’ online habits revealed:

Just as children are taught road rules and sex education, new research shows it has become vital to teach them about the dangers of cyberspace.
By Motherpedia
Date: June 28 2012
Editor Rating:

The Secret Life of Teens report by McAfee, an internet security provider, reveals that two-thirds of teenagers say their parents don't know everything they do online.

The report, which surveyed 500 teenagers and 500 parents in May, found that 68 per cent of Aussie teens had posted personal content online such as email addresses, phone numbers, school information and home addresses.

"These teens don't realise or properly understand the consequences of their actions," Steve Redman, president of McAfee Asia Pacific, said.

They also don't understand that once personal information has been posted online, it can't be taken back. Clearly, we have a problem that needs to be addressed."

Secret Life of Teens has prompted a partnership worth more than $1 million between McAfee and Life Education Australia, to educate students on how to stay safe and develop good online communication skills.

As a result, a new Life Education Social Skills and Cybersafety module designed for middle primary students will be available to 3500 schools and 620,000 students as of February 2013.

Nearly all Australian teens have access to a social network, with 72 per cent using Facebook daily. On average, they open their first social networking account at 13, almost half of them without parental help.

The report, released on Wednesday, found 20 per cent of teenagers intentionally called up nude or pornographic images - with boys outnumbering girls four to one - and just over 12 per cent viewed online pornography a few times a week.

Even more concerning, one in 20 Aussie teenagers said they had met with strangers they came to know online.

"We are seriously committed to this endeavour. This initiative is about protecting kids from themselves, and protecting them from strangers," Redman, a father of four, said.

Dr Justin Coulson, from Happy Families Family Education, said: "We have a duty as parents and adults to inform our kids about what's going on and what they are being exposed to."

The Secret Life of Teens Report also revealed:

Risky and Inappropriate Online Behaviour 
Over 30 per cent of teens admit to pirating music or movies online. Some teens are engaging in potentially dangerous behaviour, including: entering into private chat with strangers they’ve met online (8.5 per cent); and sending or posting revealing photos (6 per cent). Girls were shown to be three times more likely (than boys) to post revealing photos of themselves online – 8.5 per cent compared with 3.1 per cent.

Cyber Bullying is a Reality for Australian Teens that Parents Need to Better Understand 
More than a quarter of teens have been victims of cyber bullying with over half of teens witnessing mean or cruel behaviour directed at a classmate or friend online. Over 90 per cent said that this cyber bullying happened on Facebook; not surprising given Facebook is the social network of choice. Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Over 40 per cent of teens indicated they confronted the bully online or in person, with a similar number of teens also talking to their parents, teachers or other adults about the behaviour. Girls are almost twice as likely to talk to adults about online bullying than boys, though that may be due to the fact that over 60 per cent of girls have witnessed online bullying, compared with 45 per cent of boys. Still, this is tough for kids to deal with and many expressed feelings of anger, depression or fear for their own safety.  

They’re Using the Internet for Good, Too
Over half of Australian teens classify themselves as ‘engaged’, using social networks to talk with others and post their own thoughts and opinions. Many remain in the observer category, and less than 4 per cent identify as Trolls (people who posts inflammatory messages). While some experienced arguments with friends, and even had friendships end via social networks, more said they actually resolved arguments online and almost half said they’ve gotten help with homework or assignments thanks to social networking. Almost 20 per cent said they turn to online search to educate themselves about sexual topics or sexually transmitted diseases, or for resources about getting help with eating disorders and general advice, such as the Kids Helpline. 

Parents Underestimate the Riskiest Behaviour 
Australian parents understand how much time their teens spend online, with teens admitting to 3.6 hours a day and parents guessing 3.5 hours of use. This shows a greater awareness when compared to the five hours a day spent online by US teens whose parents think they are online for only three. Aussie parents were spot on when they commented on how their kids are accessing the internet, whether it be desktop, laptop or smartphones and they know that one in five teens are now using their smartphones to access the internet. 

Parental Controls
Even though almost 70 per cent of teens believe their parents are monitoring their online behaviour in some shape or form, they also believe they can hide their online activity and almost half take active steps to do so. In actuality, less than half of parents are using any form of online monitoring – be it access to their teens’ passwords, parental controls etc. – and only 10 per cent are setting parental controls on frequently used mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

“It was great to see from the research that almost 80 per cent of parents are having conversations with their teens about being safe online, but it’s also vital to clarify how often such risky behaviour is actually happening so parents understand the importance of cyber education,” said Redman.

According to Redman, “Teens are spending more time online than ever before, which only makes sense in this digital age, and disturbing behaviour such as cyber bullying is even more of a reality than parents know. Arming our kids with the information they need and talking even more openly about the risks involved and how to deal with them, is a big part of cyber safety.” 

“It is critical that government and industry continue to work together with parents and educators to teach our kids about cyber safety from a young age,” said Redman. 

Do these findings surprise you? What do you think about good online communications skills being taught through Life Education?

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