America’s Youth Admit to Surprising Online Behavior, Would Change Actions if Parents Were Watching

McAfee Study Reveals the Digital Disconnect between Today’s Youth and Parents

72 Percent of Parents are Overwhelmed by Technology and Just Hope for the Best

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--()--McAfee today released findings from the company’s 2013 Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents and Kids study. The study examines the online habits and interests of preteens, teens, and young adults and finds there is a significant disconnect between what they do online and what their parents believe they do. While youth understand that the Internet is dangerous, they still engage in risky behavior, hiding this activity from their parents in a variety of ways and acknowledging that they (46%) would change their behavior if they knew their parents were paying attention.

“It’s still the Wild West out there and because they are digital natives, our youth are engaging in all kinds of unsafe behavior without the benefit of understanding how their actions will affect their lives,” said Michelle Dennedy, vice president and chief privacy officer at McAfee. “This study has made it exceedingly clear that parents need to get involved, to understand what their children are doing online, and to engage them in a myriad of ways that will keep them living safe online. Children of all ages are shouting out for guidance.”


Youth are not the only ones that need to be educated regarding safe behavior online. In fact, 62% of parents do not think that their children can get into deep trouble online and 80% of parents do not even know how to find out what their children are doing online. The majority of parents (74%) simply admit defeat and claim that they do not have the time or energy to keep up with their children and hope for the best.


While 39% of parents try to monitor their children’s online behavior with parental controls, tech savvy teens take advantage of their parents’ limited tech acumen and bypass the surveillance. Of the 41% of tweens that have passwords set for mobile apps by their parents, 92% of them know the passwords. More than half (60%) of tweens’ parents think they do not know the passwords. This can lead to behavior on a mobile phone that cannot be as easily monitored and can lead to unwanted engagements, as well as costly bills, when it goes unchecked.

Also of concern is the digital disconnect that exists when it comes to communicating about Internet safety. Seventy-one percent of parents believe they have had conversations with their children about proper online behavior, while only 44% of youth agree—implicating that there is a need for more straightforward conversations with teens about living safe online in a way that will more clearly resonate and affect their behavior.


Among the findings in a category new to this annual survey were risky behaviors in tweens, ages 10-12. While not technically permitted to have a Facebook profile, they admit to using Facebook in significant numbers (85%). The study also found that 58% of these preteens believe that they know how to hide what they do from their parents online. Nearly a quarter of preteens clear their browser history or use private browser settings to hide their activity from parents.

Other key findings include:

Teens spend more time online than their parents think.

  • On average, about 25% of youth spend 5-6 hours a day online, while majority of parents believe they are online 1-2 hours a day.

Teens find social sites to be safe, so they post personal information unbeknownst to their parents.

  • 86% of youth believe these sites are safe, so they continue to post personal information such as their email addresses (50%) and personal activities such as who they date (31%).
  • Only 17% of parents are aware that their children post email addresses and only 12% of parents are aware that they are sharing personal information such as who they date.

Teens use social media sites that their parents may not know exist.

  • 95% of youth have at least one social media account. Facebook is the number one social media platform used by preteens, teens and young adults (about 86%), followed by Twitter (about 59%), Instagram (about 46%), Pinterest (about 42%), Tumblr (about 38%) and Snapchat (about 33%).
  • About 22% of 10-23 year olds admit to using mobile devices to hide activity from their parents.
  • 75% of youth 10-23 find out about apps from their friends.

Social media sites are a hub for mean behavior.

  • More than one quarter (27%) of 10-23 year olds have witnessed cruel behavior on social networks with 89% saying this behavior took place on Facebook. 36% of tweens saw this on Twitter and 19% on Instagram.
  • 58% of 18-23 year olds posted comments on these sites, 46% of which had foul language and 26% of which were mean.
  • 14% of 13-23 year olds have hacked into someone else’s social network account or email.

Teens are actively searching for inappropriate content.

  • Over 57% of 13-23 year olds use the Internet to search sexual topics while only 13% of parents believe they do.
  • 48% of 13-23 year olds have looked up a website or video that their parents would disapprove of while only 17% of parents are aware of these searches.
  • Over one third (37%) of 13-23 year olds are searching for simulated violence such as “epic fail” clips on Facebook or real-life violence on YouTube.

In addition to putting themselves in risky situations, teens find that much of their online behavior leads to negative personal experiences that are often immediate. Nearly one third (29%) of 13-23 year olds have had a negative experience when sharing revealing photos. Over a quarter (27%) of young adults 18-23 post photos while intoxicated, which can also sabotage future career opportunities.

“While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are rebelling online and hiding activity from their parents, what is concerning is the kinds of behaviors they are engaging in and that it extends to tweens,” said Dennedy. “There is no sense of permanence and global reach with online sharing and posting among these age groups, so the onus really is upon the parents to accelerate their digital savvy and be actively engaged on educating their kids about how to live safely online.”

To learn more, please check out:

Report -

Study Webpage –

Blog Post by Robert Siciliano –

Blog Post by Lianne Caetano –

Infographic -

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Quantitative Methodology

TRU conducted a total of 2,474 online interviews in the U.S. among youth ages 10-23 and parents of youth ages 10-23. These interviews were split evenly among 1,173 youth and 1,301 parents. The parent/youth samples yield a margin of error of +/-2.7 and +/-2.9 percentage points, respectively. The total sample of 2,474 yields a margin of error of +/-2.0 percentage points. The interviews were conducted from April 3rd through April 15th, 2013.

All youth and parents were required to use (or say their child uses) the Internet at least one hour in a normal day. Interviews among youth were split evenly by age and gender. Interviews among parents were split fairly evenly by gender, as well as by age and gender of their child. The sample was comprised of 16% Hispanic and 18% African American respondents and achieved geographic distribution according to the US census.

About McAfee

McAfee, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), empowers businesses, the public sector, and home users to safely experience the benefits of the Internet. The company delivers proactive and proven security solutions and services for systems, networks, and mobile devices around the world. With its Security Connected strategy, innovative approach to hardware-enhanced security, and unique Global Threat Intelligence network, McAfee is relentlessly focused on keeping its customers safe.

Note: McAfee is a trademark or registered trademark of McAfee, Inc. in the United States and other countries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.


Jaime Leigh Le, 408-346-5276
DKC Public Relations
Rachel Carr, 212-981-5253


Jaime Leigh Le, 408-346-5276
DKC Public Relations
Rachel Carr, 212-981-5253